Educating drivers about bike rider and pedestrian safety

“Both bike riders and pedestrians face an increasing threat from distracted drivers as well as from our current road infrastructure, as the present design and layout of many of the streets in New Jersey are inadequate for safe biking and walking.

As a result, there is a strong need for laws requiring motorists to give our most vulnerable road users, essentially anyone walking or riding a bicycle, a margin of safety when being passed out on the road, as well as an urgent need to improve the education of our motoring public on how to share the roads with people walking and people on bikes.”

Mark Davis, NJBWC Board Member

The New Jersey legislature unanimously passed A4165/S2894 in December 2017 and January 2018, in the waning days of the 2016-2017 legislative session, thanks to a tremendous outreach effort led by the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and including our partners at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and the League of American Bicyclists.

The law requires the state’s driver’s education courses and brochures to emphasize the importance of operating a motor vehicle in a manner that safely shares the roadway with pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, riders of motorized-scooters and other non-motorized vehicles. The law further requires that the curriculum should include, but not be limited to, topics such as passing a cyclist on the road, recognizing bicycle lanes, navigating intersections with pedestrians and cyclists, and exiting a vehicle without endangering pedestrians and cyclists. The law further requires the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to include bicycle and pedestrian safety as part of the written examination required to obtain an examination permit and basic driver’s license.

Governor Christie signed this bill into law on January 15, 2018, making it one of the first bicycle and pedestrian safety laws to be passed since the crosswalk law- the “stop and stay stopped” law- was passed in April 2010.

This effort had been underway since at least 2004, when the NJDOT established goals via the state’s update to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which included more information in the driver’s education manual, questions on the license exam, and content in the drivers education course. While some changes were made to the manual, nothing was added to the course or to the exam. As leadership changed at the MVC, this effort dissipated.

The next opportunity to move this forward came about when the MVC appointed a representative to NJDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC) when this council was reconstituted in the fall of 2014. The Education Subcommittee of BPAC drafted a set of rules for bike rider safety to be included in the driver’s education manual, and a set of questions to be included in the license exam, and submitted them to the MVC. The MVC reported to the committee that the questions have been included in the “pool” of questions that can be selected to be on the exam, but they were not required to be on it. The MVC also presented the committee with a draft of new text that included bicycle safety information. At the same time, the NJDOT included this requirement in the 2016 update to the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.

But this wasn’t enough. Advocates felt that pedestrian safety also needed to be included, and that given past efforts failing due to leadership changes, codification was needed. Assembly bill A4165 was introduced by Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro and passed unanimously by both the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee in December 2016 and by the full Assembly in January 2017.

When a similar bill (S2894) was introduced in the Senate Transportation Committee by Senator Nia Gill and Senator Steven Oroho in January 2017, we reviewed the language and worked with Senator Nia Gill’s office to make a minor amendment to the bill that would reduce the cost and thereby have a better chance of passing and being signed by then-Governor Christie. In June, NJBWC Board Member Mark Davis testified before the Transportation Committee, and the bill was unanimously approved by that committee; it was then referred to the Senate Budget Committee.

But then the election season came upon us, and all committee meetings were postponed until after the November 2017 elections. In mid-November, when the Senate Budget Committee’s list of posted bills for their next meeting did not include S2894, we sprang into action, calling upon Senator Paul Sarlo, the committee’s chair, to present the bill for a committee vote. With the 2016-2017 legislative session drawing to a close on January 16, 2018, time was running out, and the bill still had a long way to go. Over 400 people responded to our joint call to action with the League of American Bicyclists and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

This set the wheels in motion, and over the next 4 weeks, we managed to jump through a total of 7 legislative hurdles to get A4165/S2894 signed into law. From getting the bill added to lists to be voted on, to the actual votes, we were successful through the support of our constituents calling and responding to our action alerts, plus some quick maneuvers by key legislators in both houses. As the bill moved through these hurdles, more additional sponsors and co-sponsors signed on, so that by the time it reached the governor’s desk, it had 15 sponsors in both houses. Every vote for which it was presented resulted in unanimous support. In the end, more than 750 people responded to our alert asking Governor Christie to sign this bill into law, and many more called his office.

We wish to thank the bill’s sponsors and co-sponsors for their support of this bill and for recognizing the need for safer roads in New Jersey: Senators Nia Gill, Steven Oroho, Patrick Diegnan, Brian Stack; Assemblywomen Annette Chaparro, Angela McKnight, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Angelica Jimenez, BettyLou DeCroce, Nancy Pinkin; Assemblymen Raj Mukherji, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Tim Eustace, Thomas Giblin, and John Wisniewski.

We also wish to thank Senator Stephen Sweeney, President of the Senate, and Senator Paul Sarlo, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee for their prompt response to our requests to have this bill presented and voted on.

We arrived at the Senate Budget Committee hearing for S2894 (December 14, 2017) with a strong show of support; the bill passed unanimously.
NJBWC Board Member Mark Davis testifies before the Senate Transportation Committee in June 2017 in support of S2894.