Note: This story has been corrected since it was first published Dec. 18.
ICBC needs to rethink its driver training to better protect cyclists and pedestrians, say local cycling organizations in response to recent collisions in Vancouver between cars and their less protected counterparts.
HUB: Your Cycling Connection issued a press release last week asking ICBC to increase the number of questions that highlight road safety for cyclists and residents on foot.
Erin O’Melinn, HUB’s executive director, said the driver’s test is an easy solution and not often included in transportation discussions that centre on infrastructure and policy.
“We just don’t understand, it’s one of the simplest things,” O’Melinn said. “ICBC could very easily improve their driver training and exam questions. There’s a very small number of questions and very few content pieces on pedestrian and cyclist interactions.”
The release, sent in conjunction with B.C. Cycling Coalition and Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, cited a TransLink study that found only one per cent of the questions on the provincial driver’s test relate to interactions with people on foot or on bikes, compared to over 50 per cent of questions relating to those topics in tests used in some European countries.
Vancouver’s 2040 transportation plan, which was adopted by city council in October, also calls for greater driver awareness for “vulnerable road users.”
“It’s a huge gap,” O’Melinn said.
Adam Grossman, ICBC’s media relations spokesperson, said the number of questions on a driver’s test varies. The testing system randomly selects 50 questions from a bank of 175, and at least two dozen of these directly relate to cyclists and pedestrians.
“There are many situational questions that would relate to cyclists and pedestrians,” said Grossman in an email to the Courier.
While ICBC’s claims regarding its tests is larger than TransLink estimates, the percentage of questions it says relate to cyclists and pedestrians is still lower than that found in European driver tests.
Grossman said ICBC addresses pedestrian and cycling safety through a Speed Watch program, investments in road improvements like countdown timers at crosswalks, as well as an online interactive map that shows crash locations across the city.
O’Melinn wants upgrades to driver training manuals as well as more information for drivers when they renew their licences.
Though the numbers are serious — the Vancouver Police Department reported six cyclists and 81 pedestrians were involved in collisions causing death from 2005 to 2011, as well as five pedestrian traffic fatalities in the last six weeks alone, a city report found the rate of pedestrian collisions has steadily declined since 1996.
An analysis by the VPD of traffic data also identifies “the actions of the pedestrians as the primary causal factor in approximately 50 per cent of the incidents and it is imperative that pedestrians realize their actions may be putting them at risk.”
O’Melinn said the winter season calls for greater care from all parties. Those on foot and bike should wear reflective gear and light clothing, and all involved should slow down at intersections where the majority of accidents occur.
“There are certainly more benefits [of walking and cycling] than risks, so we don’t want to scare people away from doing it, but we do want everybody to be really responsible, especially when it’s dark and raining in the winter season,” O’Melinn said.
So will we be seeing a new driving test anytime soon?
Grossman said ICBC reviews all concerns, but added, “We believe the test covers all areas very well, including pedestrian and cyclist awareness. There are no immediate plans to change the content.”