A reader sent me a screen shot from the curriculum of Texas Adult Drivers Education.com, an online driving school. They promise to “give you all the secrets” to pass the driving test of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The “Right of Way” section of the curriculum has a sub-section on Bicyclists, and this is what it says:
Bicyclists pose similar threats as pedestrians do to vehicles.
Absolutely right. If you kill a bicyclist or pedestrian with your car, your vehicle could suffer a dent, a broken windshield, or even a blood stain.
Bicyclists are required to ride on the far right side of the road.
Don’t stop there, Driving School. In Texas law, There’s more to that sentence. Here it is in its entirety:
Bicyclists are required to ride as far right in the lane as possible only when the lane can be safely shared by a car and a bicycle, side by side.
Kind of significant omission, don’t you think? Or is that one of the secrets that you keep to yourself?
Bicyclists are also required to respond to traffic signals and intersections the same way cars do. However, does this always happen? No. Again we have the same problem as pedestrians, many of our bike riders are children and they just do not know the law. In this case, it becomes the licensed driver’s obligation to create a safe situation for everyone by yielding to the unaware bike rider or pedestrian even if the driver of the car might have the right of way by law.
I don’t know what this driving school has to say about pedestrians. I’m tempted to make something out of the juxtaposition of pedestrians, bike riders and children, but I won’t go there. There’s plenty more to find annoying. I, in fact, do like that they stress the obligation of drivers to “create a safe situation.”
Is it their obligation because drivers are operating powerful, heavy, and deadly vehicles relative to the exposed vulnerability of a pedestrian or a cyclist?
No. It’s because…
Pedestrians and bicyclists can be huge sources of danger…
They are so close to getting it right — because the implication is that the motor vehicle is the more dangerous of the vehicles — but then they get it 180 degrees wrong. The rest of that sentence reads…
…but drivers of vehicles can easily manage [the dangers created by pedestrians and bicyclists] by lowering their speed, covering their brakes, staying ready to yield, and keeping a large distance from these sources of danger.
Texas is an easy target, not just because it’s so big, but because it’s so… Texas. When you look at the map of Bike Friendly Cities in Texas, it’s almost like looking at a map of all the Nordstroms stores in Africa. (Except Africa is better off without Nordstroms. Texas, on the other hand, would be better off with a lot more bike-friendliness.)
As revealing as this one page from a driving school curriculum is, these attitudes are not uncommon outside of Texas.
What would be the effect if driver education included the presumption that roads are for people, not just for motorists; that the motorist is the most dangerous user of the road? What if they taught that a motorist should proceed at all times with the same circumspection as someone would while carrying an open bottle of nitroglycerin… on stilts… across a crowded ice skating rink?
What if they taught accurately who is the “huge source of danger?”
Whenever you board a commercial flight, you will likely hear the flight attendant say something like this:
If you are seated next to an emergency exit, please read carefully the special instructions card located by your seat. If you do not wish to perform the functions described in the event of an emergency, please ask a flight attendant to re-seat you.
In fact, if you are seated next to an emergency exit, the flight attendant will make sure that you assent to these conditions and their grave responsibilities.
If I could change the driving school curriculum, for starters this is what I would put in Section 1:
If you are not willing to operate the most dangerous vehicle on the road as though it were the most dangerous vehicle on the road (because it is), please choose another mode of transportation. May we recommend a bicycle.