As a bicycle crash attorney, I spend a lot of time thinking of ways to prevent bike crashes. As a cyclist who rides almost everywhere I go for all of my daily errands, it is personal to me as well.
Many people say that education is the key. Awareness of cycling laws should be part of the drivers’ education curriculum. “We need to get to drivers when they are learning.” I agree that’s an important step. But it is not easy to corral soon-to-be drivers and give them the information that you think they should hear.
Well, last Tuesday morning, February 4, as a representative of Bike Law, I had the pleasure of speaking to the sophomore class at Ashley Ridge High School in Summerville, SC about how best to operate cars around cyclists and also avoid distracted driving. The program was organized by the school and Bike/Walk Summerville, led by Sandy O’Keefe.
The school has taken a keen interest in cyclist safety and helping its students be aware of the dangers of distracted driving after the loss of one of its guidance counselors who was killed while cycling earlier in the school year. Her death also spurred the formation of Bike/Walk Summerville to advocate for safer roads in the area. The work of Bike/Walk Summerville grabbed the attention of the school and they have coordinated to do something about vulnerable road users (VRUs) throughout the Charleston, SC metropolitan area and beyond.
At the assembly, representatives from Bike/Walk Summerville spoke first and introduced its safety goals and mission. Then it was my turn. I spoke to the soon-to-be-drivers about South Carolina’s bike laws including; cyclists’ right to the roads, where cyclists should ride, how to safely pass cyclists, and why it is important to be careful and extra cautious around cyclists and other VRUs.
Next was a discussion on the role that distracted driving plays in negating all that you may know about being a safe driver. Essentially, it boiled down to “When you aren’t paying attention, you can’t make the right decisions because you lack focus.” It doesn’t matter if it is texting, eating, messing with the radio or fixing your hair. Everything that takes away the necessary focus from safe operation is distracted driving and it can lead to accidents.
One of the more telling moments in the presentation came when I asked the students how many of them had witnessed their parents texting or engaging in other distracted acts while driving. Almost every hand went up. These kids learned that there is an easy way to be better than their parents and do better for their community right off the bat. Pay attention when you drive and avoid injuring other people. Driving is a privilege and it should be treated that way.
After a deputy from Dorchester County that handles traffic crashes and tickets spoke, there were good follow-up questions. I could tell from the interactions that the kids want to be good stewards on the roads. They want to do the right thing behind the wheel. I hope I get the chance to speak to other kids about the same age. It is incredibly valuable to reach drivers before they start to form bad habits behind the wheel.
Education plays a huge part. But we don’t have to wait until all the sophomores, or whatever other group, is assembled, though. I plan on keeping the conversation going and reaching as many drivers as I can. I hope you will too.