To The Editor:
My Senate District #20 was the scene of a recent tragedy: a 23-year-old bicyclist was killed when a motorist opened a car door into traffic, knocking the rider into the path of a city bus. This was a tragic occurrence, and I extend my deepest sympathies to the family.
Bicycle travel has become a significant means of transportation in our State; in New York City, some estimates put the number of daily trips at a quarter of a million. The riders are a very diverse collection, including commuters, commercial cyclists (such as couriers, messengers, and delivery persons), errand-runners, recreational cyclists, and racers. The menace of serious injury or death from accidents between bikes and motor vehicles is a reality that every cyclist faces, but it is imperative that we take every feasible action to increase bicycle safety.
Bicycling has become prominent because it promotes public health, safeguards our environment, and benefits our economy. To encourage and support it, advocates have pressed for improved conditions as an important step toward making cycling a mainstream mode of transportation.
Bike safety public awareness campaigns, active participation by police agencies in traffic enforcement, involvement of municipal officials in developing and implementing policies and projects to improve and expand cycling, informed input from the cycling community, and dynamic public involvement are all critically necessary in a commitment to make our State a first-class place to ride a bicycle.
Bicycling will make New York a cleaner and healthier place to live, and I have been involved in the effort to promote safe cycling since my election to the State Senate in 2007.
As a former NYPD captain, I have an expertise in police work, and my knowledge and experience make it clear to me that any campaign to deter automobile drivers from behaviors that imperil cyclists would be far more effective and efficient were it coupled with an educational program.
Enforcement of regulations that promote due care and curtail tailgating, unsafe passing, improperly opening car doors into traffic, driving or parking in bike lanes, and speeding and reckless driving are essential, but I am proposing an instructional program as a necessary and effective addition.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of cyclists on the road, and it is imperative that the regulations governing the licensing of New York State drivers reflect this fact.
New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) Section 502 mandates that prospective drivers “satisfactorily complete a course prescribed by the commissioner of not less than four hours and not more than five hours, consisting of classroom driver training and highway safety instruction or the equivalent thereof.”
During this pre-licensing course, various subjects are covered, and the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles is empowered to prescribe course requirements. Current mandated topics include alcohol and drug education, road rage awareness, and work zone safety awareness. In developing the curriculum for the training, “the commissioner shall consult with … any other group that the commissioner believes can contribute to a comprehensive presentation of the issue.”
Therefore, I will introduce legislation in the New York State Senate to modify VTL Section 502 to include a specific component developed to promote and enhance bicycle safety awareness as part of the required coursework for New York State driver license applicants.
This pre-licensure education will help transform motorists’ attitudes towards cycling, provide training in safeguarding bicyclists, and perhaps even provide additional New Yorkers the confidence to join both me and the hundreds of thousands of their fellows who bicycle for business and pleasure.
N.Y. State Senate.