Student Drivers Learn To Co-Exist With Cyclists

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Anthony Thomas teaches a "share the road" class at the Columbus Driving Academy in Reynoldsburg. The state, in recent years, has included more information about bicyclists in the curriculum guidelines.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, 89.7 NPR News Reporter)
Anthony Thomas teaches a "share the road" class at the Columbus Driving Academy in Reynoldsburg. The state, in recent years, has included more information about bicyclists in the curriculum guidelines.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, 89.7 NPR News Reporter)

With more and more bicyclists on the road, drivers have to learn how to share. While fewer bicyclists were hurt on Ohio roads last year, the number of riders killed ticked up slightly. Ohio driver’s ed instruction has been slow to keep up with the rising number of bicycle commuters. But as WOSU reports, student drivers are learning more than ever about how to co-exist with cyclists.

“Everybody know what class they’re here for? Class number? Five. Is there anybody who thought this was something else? OK.”

It’s 6 o’clock at the Columbus Driving Academy in Reynoldsburg. A couple dozen teenagers sit quietly waiting to delve into the evening’s curriculum: “Sharing the Road.”

Students turn their attention to a large television.

“Now, let’s go over the classroom rules.”

Driving instructor Anthony Thomas runs a tight ship.

“If you’re later than five minutes, we don’t have to let you in.”

Thomas has taught young drivers for 14 years. And he knows there’s a lot of material to cover during the next three hours. About half of it will be spent on bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians and large vehicles.

But driver’s ed students haven’t always received extensive information about sharing the road with bicycles. Patricia Kovacs works with the Ohio Bicycle Federation.

“There was a very limited amount of information…There was only about one page in the driver manual and only about a half a page in the driver’s ed curriculum.”

Kovacs has helped the Ohio Department of Public Safety update and expand the motor vehicle law digest and driver’s ed curriculum.

“So in 2006 there was a better bicycling bill that made some changes to the laws, and they hadn’t been reflected in the driver manual,” she said. “So around 2012 the driver manual was updated. And we just finished reviewing the curriculum, and we have added a bunch of stuff to that. So I think it’s going to be a lot better.”

State law requires driver’s ed students to receive 24 hours of classroom instruction. How much of that time is devoted to bicycles is up to the individual schools.

Valerie Luptak oversees the public safety department’s driver training program.

“We provide our guidelines through our curriculum, and then they fill in the additional information.”

But are students getting enough? Luptak said she thinks so. Increasing lecture time would take a change in state law.

“We can’t really expand too much without going legislatively to request longer hours in the classroom. I would say that we cover it pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement,” Luptak said.

The “sharing the road” section in the driver’s manual and curriculum includes information on safely passing bicycles, hand signals, and the rules bike riders must follow. Next year’s revision will include additinal signs and pavement markings. The Ohio Bicycle Federation’s Kovacs helped draft the material.

“It wasn’t clear what the hand signals were for cyclists. They have a picture in the digest about a car driver using hand signals…but now that’s reflected in the text. There were changes made to why cyclists don’t always have to ride as far right as practicable, so that all got added.”

Back at the Columbus Driving School in Reynoldsburg students discuss how to safely pass a cyclist.

“So slow down and create a wide space. If you pass a bicyclist, what do you think is a wide space? At least how many feet?”

Leon Evergin, 16, of Columbus, said he thinks the school is teaching enough about sharing the road. He said he put the most important thing he’s learned – patience – to the test when on a drive with his dad around the Ohio State campus.

“I just, you know, followed behind the bike. I just, I didn’t try to ride him too hard,” he said. “I didn’t speed past him when I went to pass him. I just kind of eased out and went past him.”

Pariss Gray, 15, of Reynoldburg, said she thinks the driver’s manual could have had some more information. The class on sharing the road, she said, helped fill in the gaps.

“I think we’re getting a sufficient amount right now, but, I mean, I guess a little bit more would work because I didn’t even know half the things we learned. Like I had no idea of some of those rules and laws.”

The student’s knowledge will be put to the test on the 40-question driver license exam. But only two questions relate to bicycles.

Again, the department of public safety’s Valerie Luptak.

“There’s a lot of other categories you have to hit on. So I really think that two questions is sufficient.

Driving instructor Anthony Thomas said the biggest test isn’t at the BMV. He said it’s behind the wheel.

“This is just a paper test, but you’re going to be tested every time you get out there on the road with the things that we’re trying to teach you,” Thomas said. “And I think that’s where it comes in to actually register, ‘OK, this is what I’ve learned. I didn’t handle that situation right. How can I now do that a little bit better going forward?’”

  • BTSFblog

    Thanks for running this story! As a cyclist I really appreciate the help raising awareness. Cyclist will do our part to stay safe, but we are still dependent on individuals driving safely when passing us!

  • Tricia Kovacs

    Just wanted to add that Ohio Bicycle Federation submitted 15 new questions to the pool of questions which make up the drivers test. A specific test contains 20 questions which are drawn from a pool of 600 questions. Since a specific test must contain questions of multiple subjects, having 2 regarding bicycles is pretty good IMHO. We are grateful to ODPS for including cyclists in the review of the digest and curriculum.