By Monica Jimenezfirstname.lastname@example.org
Posted May 08, 2013 @ 11:14 AM
Almost every day, Benjamin Warren has a front-row seat to narrow misses between cyclists and cars.
“There are always close calls,” said Warren, founder and instructor at the Lexington Driving School on Mass. Ave. in East Arlington. “Kids will pass bicycles by 6 inches and say, ‘I saw them, I saw them!’”
As more cyclists hit the roads and drivers get more distracted and impatient, several groups are trying to promote safer driving habits around cyclists, including Warren.
Running the school with his wife, Sarah, Warren has spent 40 years teaching the ways of the roads to teens – and later their siblings, and their children, and their children’s children. From morning till evening, he guides drivers up and down Mass. Ave., which teems with cars, buses, pedestrians jumping out from in front of parked cars and, of course, cyclists.
More cyclists on the road
Thanks partly to the rising cost of gasoline and increasing awareness of the health benefits of biking, there are more cyclists on Mass. Ave. than ever, Warren said.
“Some are excellent bike riders. They observe all the rules, stop at red lights, don’t cut corners and use their hand signals. They’re really professional,” Warren said. “The other half never stop at red lights, cut left corners, don’t use signals, go up on the sidewalks, and take shortcuts.”
People who view driving as a competitive sport make roads even more chaotic, Warren said. “A lot of drivers in Arlington are getting to be more like Boston drivers and aren’t as courteous as they used to be. More drivers are driving aggressively,” Warren said. “They cut you off to save 2 seconds.”
New or experienced, most American drivers don’t take driving seriously enough, said Dan Strollo, president of the Professional Driver Education Association of Massachusetts.
“They’re too busy updating their Facebook page from the steering wheel, playing with the radio, eating a sandwich, talking to someone on the phone, often doing everything but controlling the vehicle,” Strollo said.
Products of a lax driver’s ed program, American drivers don’t know how to stop in an emergency, don’t know their limits when backing up, open their doors without looking, and follow too closely, said Strollo. All this, he said, contributes to drivers’ widespread discomfort about sharing the road with bikes.
“I think the problem is they’re just not great drivers, so they get intimidated by it,” Strollo said. “Too often drivers are not planning for the fact that the cyclists riding next to us might suddenly have to go around a pothole and might suddenly be closer to your lane.”
Distance, speed important
Allow three seconds of space between a cyclist and your vehicle and be prepared for anything the cyclist might do, Strollo said, just as you should with another vehicle.
“You’ve got to be very patient and keep a good distance behind them. Recognize a bicycle as a vehicle that’s entitled to its own lane, and allow bicycles their space,” Watson said. “Don’t feel uncomfortable staying behind them, and when there are no parked cars, take advantage of that opening to pass them.”
Drivers are legally required to give extra space to cyclists, pass them at a safe speed, wait until they’re well past before moving or turning right, and yield to cyclists before turning left, said Arlington resident and MassBike executive director David Watson. Drivers should be aware the cyclists are allowed to use the entire road, and that they could be anywhere on the road, Watson said.
“The awareness that there are more and more bicyclists on the road is the most important thing,” Watson said.
In response to a 2011 law encouraging bicycle safety on roadways, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) added more content to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) driver’s manual about bicycle safety and sharing the road, said MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes.
The RMV’s curriculum framework and Class D permit exam also include bicycle safety material, Verseckes said. Nine bicycle safety and sharing the road questions were asked 156,898 times during the last calendar year, with a success rate of 75 percent, Verseckes said.
Additionally, enhanced MBTA training for bus drivers has resulted in noticeably safer bus operation around cyclists, said Watson, who echoed Warren’s advice to drivers: Be patient and don’t rush.
“The one thing I say to everyone, biking, driving or walking, is everybody’s better off if people just slow down a little bit. It gives people more time to think, look around and make sure they’re safe and people around them are safe,” Watson said. “One thing is for sure on Massachusetts roads: Everyone is in a hurry.”