There were quite a few developments in Michigan bicycle laws last year, one of which pertains to requiring bike safety in driver’s training curriculum. Initially launched as an awareness campaign following a tragedy and met with numerous setbacks, Michigan now requires driver’s training programs to include one hour of bicycle safety and bicyclists rights instruction.
On September 27, 2018, a law requiring all driver’s training classes to include instruction covering increased awareness of bicycles took effect. This amendment to an existing driver’s education statute is the result of years of hard work by the League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB) and motorcycle advocacy groups.
Awareness After Tragedy
Efforts to increase motorist awareness of bicycles and motorcycles on Michigan roads has been a long-time struggle for bicycle advocate and personal injury attorney, Bryan Waldman. However, in October 2014, Michigan passed a law, commonly known as the Nathan Bower Act. The intention of the Nathan Bower Act was to make Michigan roads safer for bicyclists and motorcyclists. Nathan Bower, a Sanilac County resident, was killed at the age of 19 while riding his motorcycle as the result of a collision with a motor vehicle. The accident occurred only a few miles from his home. The law amended Michigan’s existing driver’s education law to require classroom instruction that includes “information concerning the laws pertaining to bicycles and motorcycles and shall emphasize awareness of their operation on the streets, roads, and highways of this state.”
Unfortunately, in practice, the law had little to no impact on classroom instruction in driver’s training programs. In fact, following the Nathan Bower Act, many Michigan students in driving programs confirmed bike safety was not covered.
Advocacy groups and sympathetic lawmakers concluded increased bike safety in driver’s training would likely require the state mandating it. In September 2016, Senators O’Brien and Knezek introduced a bill to amend the law. The amended law would require all driver education programs to dedicate at least three hours to information concerning bicycles and motorcycles. The Senate Judiciary Committee then unanimously voted it out of committee.
One Hour Modification
However, a Representative of Michigan Secretary of State appeared at the committee hearing and opposed the change. The Secretary of State’s argued that requiring three hours of instruction on these topics would not allow for enough time to cover other important topics. This argument initially made little sense to many proponents of the bill. However, after Bryan Waldman met with a Representative from Secretary of State and Senator O’Brien, the challenges at the Secretary of State’s office were apparent. Most notably, Michigan driver’s training programs only require 30 hours of classroom time. Despite this, the module used for these classes are based on 45-hours of classroom instruction. Senator O’Brien realized that passage of the bill before the full Senate would likely require support from the Secretary of State. Accordingly, she prudently modified the bill to provide for one hour of classroom instruction on these topics, rather than three.
Bike Safety in Driver’s Training Classes
The full Senate unanimously passed this compromise and referred to the House Transportation Committee. The Committee didn’t take action, and as a result, the bill died at the end of the 2015-2016 Legislative session.
In 2017, Senator O’Brien reintroduced the bill. This time, the Senate and House approved the compromise language. The Governor then signed it on July 29, 2018. The new Michigan bicycle law took effect on September 27, 2018. The new requirement for all driver education classes states:
“Classroom instruction shall include not less than 1 hour of information concerning the laws pertaining to bicycles, motorcycles, and other vulnerable roadway users, including pedestrians, and shall emphasize awareness of their operation on the streets, roads, and highways of this state. The laws of this state pertaining to awareness of bicycles, motorcycles, and other vulnerable roadway users, including pedestrians, shall also be incorporated into other subject areas of the curriculum where appropriate.”