Plans for New York drivers to take bike-safety classes

Bill 8487 inspired by death of 23-year-old cyclist

The State of New York is taking an important step to protect cyclists – educating motorists. New York City has introduced a piece of legislation compelling pre-licensed drivers to learn about bike safety. And the state Senate is expected to vote in favor of Bill 8487 during the next legislative session in January.

“Awareness is key for safety in the streets,” said Joe Sharkey, a volunteer with Brooklyn Cyclists and Time’s Up! who worked with Senator Eric Adams and his office to promote the bill. “Pointing things out to people in an educational setting goes a long way to making people aware. It's as simple as looking for a split second before you open a door. The unit proposed would be to raise awareness of all vulnerable road users, not just cyclists.”

Senator Adams introduced the bill in response to the death of 23-year-old Jasmine Herron, who was knocked off her bike by the open door of a parked car door and then hit by a bus on Atlantic Avenue in Clinton Hill, New York last September.

The New York Times reported that there were 21 cyclist fatalities as a result of street accidents in 2008, based on the city’s most recent accident study. Sharkey believes that Senator Adam’s bill could achieve concrete results by expanding bike safety education to all drivers, not just new drivers.

“The course should also be a part of traffic school for reckless drivers who endanger pedestrians and cyclists,” Sharkey said. “It should be mandatory for all city and state agencies which operate motor vehicles in New York that use tax dollars, such as the police, responsible for traffic law enforcement, who often look the other way when vulnerable street users are carelessly put at risk.”

City riding on the rise

Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that works for better public walking, bicycling and public transportation, estimates that 230,000 people now ride their bikes daily in New York City. This is an increase on previous years, and this rise in bike use has been attributed to the building of new cycling infrastructure such as bike lanes, many of which run alongside sections of on-street parking.

“Motor vehicles are deadly when operated carelessly,” Sharkey said. “In a high-density city like New York, where the majority of people walk, bike or use other sustainable, yet vulnerable, forms of transportation, it's essential that those street users with the greatest potential to cause harm be properly trained on how to safely operate their vehicles and share the road."

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries has partnered with Senator Adams on passing the bill, according to Sharkey. “He seems confident, and it seems like an easy bill to rally around in its current form,” he said. “I can't see why any politician wouldn't see the benefits of passing this bill that will save lives.”

The proposed Bill 8487 is similar to the new Bike Aware campaign launched by David Love in the UK. Love’s proposal takes on a more practical approach by requiring new drivers to test their cycling awareness and ability.

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