By Agnes Bao
Capital News Service
While bicycling soars in popularity, bicycle crashes are also increasing in Michigan.
Bicycle crashes increased 12 percent, up from 1,763 in 2014 to 1,988 in 2016, the most recent figures show. Thirty-eight bicyclists died in 2016, up 81 percent from 21 in 2014, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning.
Although bicycle crashes account for less than 1 percent of all traffic crashes, “bicyclists are more seriously injured in these crashes,” said Aneta Kiersnowski, the director of development and communications at the League of Michigan Bicyclists.
Many drivers are unaware that bicyclists — not only motorists — have the right to use the roads, said Kiersnowski.
“Often motorists will shout things like ‘get off the road’ or ‘get on the sidewalk’ at bicyclists when they are lawfully riding on a roadway,” she said. “Some even attempt to ‘punish’ bicyclists for being in their way by passing them extremely and dangerously close.”
The most severe crashes occur when a bicyclist is hit from behind when both the bicyclist and motorist are traveling in the same direction, according to the state crash data.
To raise drivers’ awareness of bicycle safety, Rep. Julie Alexander, R-Hanover, sponsored a bill to improve the driver education curriculum.
It would require driver education classes to include at least one hour of instruction on laws pertaining to bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians and other “vulnerable roadway users.”
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has moved the bill to the House floor for a vote.
The cosponsors are Reps. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek; Holly Hughes, R-Montague; Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian; Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township; and Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills.
Alexander said some motorists are confused because communities have different types of bike pathways. Some are in the middle of the road, some are on the side and some are between the road and parking areas.
“We need to make sure our new drivers have the information and education to become a better and safer driver,” Alexander said.
The one-hour classroom instruction would come from the 1.5 hours of instructor discretion that is now in the curriculum. It wouldn’t affect the total hours of driver education and other content, she said.
Driver education programs already devote time to bicycle safety, said Mary Kay Relich, the secretary of the Michigan Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association based in Kalamazoo.
If the bill is signed into law, local instructors would follow the outline established by the Department of State, she said.
The department is responsible for the driver education curriculum.
To ensure drivers’ awareness of bicycle safety, Relich suggested that the department write questions to test their knowledge.
Besides advocating for the improvement of driver education, the League of Michigan Bicyclists is creating a web-based training program for adult bicyclists, children and motorists on bicycle safety.
“Incorporating bicyclists into driver education training will help motorists build an understanding of bicylists’ behavior and lead to an environment where both are comfortable interacting with one another,” Kiersnowski said.