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Traffic justice in NY State: for cyclists and pedestrians.

On August 16th of 2006 former New York State Governor Pataki signed a law that increases the severity of the penalty for any motor vehicle driver who is involved in a collision that causes a fatality or a severe injury. The new law authorizes mandatory revocation and suspension of licenses and registrations where a conviction for a traffic infraction for a subsequent violation of vehicle and traffic law and commission, caused serious physical injury or death of another person. The law further requires participation in a motor vehicle accident prevention course in certain instances.

The timing of the new law coincides with new information released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) which states that highway fatalities have increased for the first time since 1990. According to NHTSA, an increase in motorcycle and pedestrian deaths contributed to an overall rise in highway fatalities in 2005. The total number of fatalities rose 1.4 percent from 42,836 in 2004 to 43,443 in 2005, while the rate of fatalities was 1.47 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), up from 1.45 in 2004.

"We have no tolerance for any numbers higher than zero," said NHTSA Acting Secretary Cino. "Motorcyclists need to wear their helmets, drivers need to buckle up, and all motorists need to stay sober." But even if every rider wore their helmet and drivers were sober and buckled, this still would not reduce the pedestrian and bicyclist fatality number to zero.

New York State's total highway fatality rate may be lower than the national average; unfortunately, New York has one of the highest bicycle and pedestrian fatality rates in the country. According to the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) of the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, bicycle and pedestrian fatalities make up 13% of all highway fatalities. New York's bicyclist and pedestrian fatality rate is nearly 25%, almost double that of the national average. Although bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities make up almost a quarter of all NYS highway fatalities, only a small percentage of highway safety funds are devoted to making the roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Recognizing the need for more attention on the problem of bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities, the Traffic Justice Task Force was formed this past September to address the issue on a national scale. The Task Force is an alliance of organizations and individuals with a focus on crash prevention rather than crash mitigation. While other countries have adopted far more effective strategies to reduce the carnage on their roads, the United States continues to average over 40,000 traffic fatalities a year.

In New York State, the New York Bicycling Coalition (NYBC) has been working with the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee to bring "Share the Road" material to driver's education teachers. While this innovative program has merited NYBC with a Traffic Safety Award from AAA NY, the training is an at-will program and the curriculum in not mandated for Driver's Ed Instructors. In order to educate the driving public properly, some believe this material could be included in all drivers' education and PIPR classes in the state. The driving public should routinely know that bicyclists have a right to the road and pedestrians have the right of way in the crosswalk.

Furthermore, some believe we need to change our mode of thinking in traffic planning and accommodate all road users not just motor-vehicles. The introduction of "Complete Streets" legislation would dictate that any new roadway projects would be built to accommodate all roadway users. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, "The streets of our cities and towns ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper." Streets could include sidewalks for pedestrians and at the very least, a paved shoulder if not a bike lane for bicyclists. This legislation should be coupled with a "Safe Passing Law" which stipulates a minimum three foot distance when overtaking a bicyclist.

Recently a number of states (Florida, Wisconsin & Utah) have passed similar laws, which dictate a minimum safe passing distance. While these laws are relatively new and have yet to be proven effective, they are an important step to protecting bicyclists on the road. A Safe Passing Law, Complete Streets legislation and increased awareness of Share the Road material are all part of the current legislative efforts of the New York Bicycling Coalition. The mission of the Coalition is to improve safety and access for all people walking and bicycling in New York State. To get involved, or learn more about the New York Bicycling Coalition, visit the NYBC website at
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Title Annotation:New York State News
Author:Poppell, Joshua
Publication:The Informed Constituent (Albany, NY)
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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