Bike Advocate Says State Slow To Better Laws

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Last week, 20-year-old Jeffrey Stevenson, of Dublin, suffered fatal injuries after he was struck by a vehicle while riding his bike along Sawmill Road. That same day, Brent Nimmo, got a ticket on Alum Creek Drive for not riding his bike close enough to the shoulder of the road. Bicycle advocates say these are two examples of why the state needs to incorporate more comprehensive information about bicycle laws into drivers’ education.

Patricia Kovacs, who has been biking for years, has had her share of run-ins.

“We get yelled at all the time to get on the sidewalk. We have to yell back it’s illegal in Columbus to ride on the sidewalk. We get passed too closely,” she said.

Kovacs is a League of American Bicyclist Instructor and an Ohio Bicycle Federation board member. Kovacs said she has been trying, for two years, to get the Ohio Department of Public Safety to include more bicycle law-specific questions added on the state’s driver’s license written test. Questions like when can a cyclist ride in the center of the lane or can you pass a bike in a no-passing zone?

“They were receptive, but then that person left their job and someone else just started. So it’s like a slow process,” she said.

Michigan has included specific questions about bike laws in its written exam for at least 15 years. Kelley Chesney speaks for the Michigan Secretary of State.

“Well actually we would talk about bicycles and mopeds and motorcyclists pretty much the same, you know, giving tips on how to handle those types of operators on the roadways. And, yes, we do cover it. And we cover it in-depth in our driver (education) program. And there are questions on our test,” Chesney said.

Kovacs said state officials have given her a number of reasons for the delay in making changes.

“Well I’ve been told the reason is, at least for the (Ohio) Department of Public Safety, is they’re looking at where the most problems are. There’s a lot more people killed in car crashes. And the next highest is motorcycles, pedestrians, and motor vehicles passengers and drivers. There aren’t as many bicycle deaths so it’s not as high priority is what I’ve been told,” Kovacs said.

According to the state department of public safety’s most recent crash report, there were 18 fatalities involving bicyclists in 2008 and nearly 1,600 injuries.

The state’s highway laws are summarized in the Digest of Motor Vehicle Laws, which is offered to driver’s license applicants. It dedicates one page to bicycle laws and there’s a picture of a bike crossing warning sign. Kovacs said there should be more information in the digest. But Lindsay Komlanc, who speaks for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said state agencies are doing “everything possible” to educate drivers on sharing the road. And she added the digest cannot address every law.

“It has to hit in a very small amount of space the main points out there for those laws and it does go into some detail as far as bicycle safety. That digest has to cover a multitude of different laws, and it is also understood that while that is the digest of the main laws, if you are to be operating a motor vehicle in the state of Ohio you are required to know all of the laws out there,” Komlancs said. The driver’s license written exam has 40 randomly selected questions out of a pool of 600.

Jenna Lynn Meadows recently took the written exam. She said there were two details questions on her test about bikes.

“How do you get around bicyclers when you’re like in your car? How would you do that? And that one, I didn’t know the answer to that one. I just skipped that one. One of the ones said would you honk your horn to get try to get them off the road? And I knew that couldn’t be the answer. You wouldn’t honk your horn at a bicyclist. Would you?,” Meadows asked.

Briana Yarbrough just took the test. There was one question about bikes on her exam.

“It showed the sign to say you know what does this mean? And it was that bicycles may be around or crossing or something like that,” Yarbrough said.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Komlanc said the current driver’s education curriculum addresses specific laws pertaining to sharing the road with bicyclists including what to look for from cyclists and actions to take as a driver. She said the current curriculum was written in 2002 and is being updated this year to include more bike-specific information.