Bikes and Driver’s Education

Traffic safety is critically important for public health and safety. Traffic injuries and deaths are nearly all avoidable, yet we have many each year. On Oct. 3, I presented to a group of about 80 driving instructors and directors of driving schools. The talk centered on road safety for all users including educating motor vehicle drivers to driving safely in traffic with bicycles and educating bike riders on traffic safety.

When I introduced myself and explained how I am a bike nut, I also explained that I am also a little bit of a car guy and enjoy driving. Along with a few other remarks, this seemed to make a positive impression and helped establish rapport with the audience.

- Josh Miller, Cascade classes and camps coordinator

We in the education department were really excited about this opportunity when we received the invitation. We hope that this was just the beginning of an ongoing collaboration with driving instructors.

In preparing for the talk, I was sure that there was a lot that we bike educators have in common with driving instructors; nevertheless, I was a bit anxious about making a connection with the audience, given the sometimes divisive politics of cars and bikes sharing the road. My strongest message had to do with empathy and having understanding for others and even patience for their mistakes. The presentation was interactive and much of the audience had questions and observations to share.

I began by introducing myself, Cascade and our education programs. When I introduced myself and explained how I am a bike nut, I also explained that I am also a little bit of a car guy and enjoy driving. Along with a few other remarks, this seemed to make a positive impression and helped establish rapport with the audience. I drew attention to the fact that many of the bike riders who most need safety training don’t seek it out and i speculated that driver safety education was similar. I looked out at the audience and saw quite a few heads nodding in agreement. One of the challenges shared by biking and driving instructors is that of marketing safety education and disseminating safety messages broadly and effectively.

A few audience members had ridden in our event rides and many knew of Cascade, but none were familiar with the work that we do through the education department training bike riders to be more competent, confident and safer bike riders. From there we went into an overview of: our youth and adult education offerings, course content, our approach to learning, our focus on teaching to all learning styles and the types of learning that are essential to bike safety education.

The presentation then moved on to the central theme of empathy. Much of the audience responded positively to this message and I hope that they will include empathy in their own messaging to students. To explore empathy on the road and to help illustrate the bike rider’s perspective, we reviewed photos of traffic hazards for bike riders and talked about the risks that bike riders (and motorcyclists) face because other drivers may not see them.

Looking at images of fixed, objective and moving road hazards, I facilitated a discussion of why bike riders may be using the full lane, rather than riding to the right. Additionally we reviewed lanes that are wide enough to safely share and lanes that are too narrow to share. This led us directly to a discussion of the Revised Code of Washington, RCW 46.61.770, which says that the rider of a bike should operate to the right side of the road except when they are travelling the speed of “the normal flow of traffic,” when overtaking another vehicle, when making a turn movement and when it is not safe. Unsafe conditions may include road hazards, the door zone or a lane that is too narrow to share. 

We then reviewed bike facilities and issues related to them. We looked at old and new types, additional resources to learn about them, how to use them on a bike or in a car and addressed the issue that the presence of a bike lane or facility does not require a bike rider to use them. If safety or your destination suggest that you don’t use a bike facility, it is best not to. In Washington, there is no so-called “mandatory sidepath law” as some states have. We then dove back into the RCW and discussed some other key issues around bikes and traffic law. I made it clear that we support even-handed education and enforcement for all road users.

After the presentation a handful of instructors wanted to chat through questions and comments that we didn’t have time for earlier.

Some of the instructors were keen to seek out any additional safety material that they could share with their students. It seems there may be enough interest to support ongoing collaboration between bicycling and driving instructors. I look forward to future collaborations.