Mentoring Motorists

This article was written by John Duggan and originally appeared in Cascade Courier in May 2008.

As cyclists we have all had that sudden moment of disbelief following a near-miss with a car when we think to ourselves, or more often than not, shout out: "Why didn't you see me?" In many Legal Spin articles, I have written about "awareness" and that as cyclists, while we are acutely aware of motor vehicles, we are essentially invisible to motorists. The saying "you can't see what you are not looking for" captures the cause of many bike/motor vehicle incidents. Most motorists have never received any education regarding cyclists' use of the road and as a result cyclists are not on the motorists' radar screens. For an interesting and creative public relations campaign on this point, watch the below video by Do The Test. 

I am often asked by intelligent non-cyclists regarding the legalities of cycling on the roadway. A common question goes something like this: While driving my car, a cyclist was riding on the road right in front of me even though there was an adjacent shoulder/marked bike lane--isn't it illegal for the cyclist to ride in my lane when there is a marked bike lane? As cyclists we all know that the answer is generally "no" and that Washington State law (RCW 46.61.770) allows us to ride in the traffic lane, shoulder, bike lane or on the sidewalk at our option.

The problem is that non-cycling motorists are uninformed regarding "sharing the road" and this often leads to incidents, misunderstandings and hostility. Part of the problem lies in the fact that motorists in Washington have never learned the law because up until recently there was nothing requiring driver education courses to teach "sharing the road." Education is the key to promoting safer bicycle/motor vehicle interactions.

Thanks to the wonderful efforts of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (BAW), which backed House Bill 2564 and companion Senate Bill 6420, all driver education programs are now required to include training regarding "sharing the road" with bicycles. The provisions of the new law can be found at RCW 46.82.420 and RCW 28A.220 and can be summarized as follows:

The legislature finds that it is the policy of the state of Washington to encourage the safe and efficient use of the roads by all citizens, regardless of mode of transportation. Driver training programs should enhance the driver training curriculum in order to emphasize the importance of safely sharing the road with bicyclists and pedestrians.

The new law requires that the basic minimum required curriculum shall include information on bicycle and pedestrian safety, to ensure that operators and motor vehicles have been instructed in the importance of safely sharing the road with bicyclists and pedestrians.

The new law provides that the superintendent of public instruction shall require that information on driving safely among bicyclists and pedestrians, approved by the director of the Department of Licensing, be included in instructional material used in traffic safety education courses.

"Getting this bill passed is an investment for the future," said BAW executive director Gordon Black. "While it won't make existing drivers better, it will help create a new generation of better drivers. We still have to come up with ways to improve the general standard for all current drivers."

In addition to its lobbying efforts to amend the above statutes, the BAW used funds generated from the proceeds it receives from sales of the "Share the Road" license plates to pay for 100,000 copies of the "Share the Road" pamphlet and 450 DVDs for use in driver education classes. So far, more than 2,800 colorful Share the Road plates are on cars, trucks, motorcycles and even trailers in Washington.

While educating existing drivers that cyclists have a right to "share the road" will be an ongoing battle, the new law mandating "share the road" training for all new drivers should make the roads safer for all of us.

Of course, it does cut both ways. Cyclists too must be courteous and share the road.

Ride safely!

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