Hochul signs bill mandating new NY drivers be tested on cyclist and pedestrian safety awareness

In a win for safe street advocates, new drivers in New York will soon be required to learn about pedestrian and bicyclist safety before getting their license, according to a new bill signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday.

The law makes pedestrian and bicyclist safety awareness a mandatory component of the pre-licensing course for driver’s license applicants, and adds the topic to the written exam required for obtaining a license.

The measure will include an overview of drivers’ duty to exercise due care with respect to pedestrians and bicyclists. The signing of the bill comes at a time when bike ridership has surged during the pandemic, and concerns over pedestrian safety have prompted advocates to call for traffic improvements.

“This law will help prevent crashes and save lives, and I thank my partners in the Assembly and Senate for passing this legislation to make our streets safer,” Hochul said in a statement.

The law takes effect in January of next year.

The measure, which aims to “educate drivers about the dangers faced by cyclists and pedestrians and will create a thoughtful road culture going forward,” according to the bill’s language, was pushed through by Brooklyn state Sen. Andrew Gounardes.

Until now, the New York State Driver’s Manual included a single page on sharing the road with pedestrians, bicyclists, and skateboarders. Under the law, the state will seek input from law enforcement, bicycle and pedestrian advocates and those in the medical field on how to craft the new curriculum.

“Our streets are not just for cars. By making instruction on pedestrian and bike safety a driver’s license requirement New York State can ensure all new drivers know how to share the road with others,” Families for Safe Streets co-founder Amy Cohen said in a statement.

An estimated 530,000 cycling trips are made every day, tripling the number taken 15 years ago, according to city transportation data. Cycling in the city also became safer within that timespan, coinciding with greater bike infrastructure, according to Department of Transportation data.

Pedestrian deaths, however, were up in the first quarter of this year compared to pre-pandemic.

A new report by the city DOT showed that driver distraction, failure to yield to right-of-way and unsafe speeds were the top three contributing factors to crashes.

Meanwhile, in 34% of crashes involving one or more pedestrians, “crossing with signal” was listed as the top “pedestrian action” taken before a crash.

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