by Kathleen Vonk
One of IPMBA’s primary objectives is to provide quality education and training to you and your fellow uniformed professionals on bicycles. Similarly, bicycle safety education is one of the primary goals of organizations such as the League of American Bicyclists, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center, and the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. The issue of education and training is important enough, in my opinion, to be one of your goals too! What’s the difference? The difference is that you are the intended audience of the organizations listed, but your intended audience is your community. As public safety cycling professionals, we have both the ability and the responsibility to educate citizens of all ages on the importance of wearing a helmet, obeying traffic law, and operating a bicycle responsibly in crowded areas and on multi-use trails. By providing information on the causes of the most common crashes, and enforcing the rules that are designed to prevent such crashes, we may prevent property damage, injury, and even death.
We have a tendency to think that bike safety education is for children, but the fact is that bike safety education is appropriate for cyclists of all ages, and motorists, too. For instance, although many cyclists are responsible adults who respect the laws of traffic while cycling in the roadway, there are hundreds – even thousands – of young adults in college communities who ride bicycles to and from class every day. These students are in a transitional period from childhood to adulthood, and oftentimes require some “guidance.” Similarly, bicycle couriers who operate in metropolitan areas can frequently be described as bicycling’s version of the taxicab driver when it comes to vehicle operations! Cycling in a bustling urban area can be dangerous if care and caution is not meticulously taken, and if traffic laws are not obeyed.
As uniformed cyclists, we can and should provide guidance to all cyclists within our communities. We can provide education in lecture form, for instance, as a public presentation on local cycling ordinance laws and expected cycling behavior. We can work with our local educational institutions to have fliers placed in college orientation packets. By writing an editorial for the city and/or student newspaper, we can provide complete and important information to our targeted audience(s). And, of course, every time we “sit in the saddle” and ride in public, we set an example for other cyclists, motor vehicle operators, and pedestrians.
Those of us who are police officers have the authority to educate through enforcement, and we know that sometimes the best motivator for behavioral modification comes in the form of punishment, especially monetary. In my experience of responding to countless “car versus bike” crashes in the downtown area, I have found that the cyclist is usually at fault. And I always cite the cyclist, whether or not he or she is injured, not just to punish, but to educate. Had the cyclist obeyed the law, injury and property damage would not have occurred. Enforcement can sometimes work hand-in-hand with education as a preventive measure to curb future violations and, more importantly, prevent property damage, injury, and even death.
And, it is much easier to cite a cyclist before an accident occurs than to handle a serious injury accident. Even though you may never know for sure whether or not you make a difference, you can feel proud of your dedication to prevention through education – in one form or another! Oh, and as an added bonus, some of your best arrests might result from bicycle stops – just ask Officer Jarret Daugherty with the Grand Island, NE, Police Department – the “good guys” are not the only ones who take advantage of the stealthiness of a bicycle.
Keep up the good work in the areas of education and enforcement, and as always, ride your gluteus to its maximus!