Moving Forward Part 3: Driver’s Education

Moving Forward Part 3: Driver’s Education

Since the publication of the last part of the Moving Forward Series a lot has happened. Mayor Tishaura Jones announced a proposition to the the Board of Aldermen for an investment of at least $40 million in American Rescue Plan funds to fund a city-wide comprehensive traffic plan and funding for traffic calming on high crash corridors/intersection, areas with already-completed studies, and on major streets like Jefferson, Grand, Union, Goodfellow and Kingshighway. Four more people have also died while walking in the City of St. Louis. Three of the four fatal crashes were on high speed, arterial streets (Manchester, Gravois, and Kingshighway), one of which has another confirmed hit and run.

Mayor Jones proposed funds are a step in the right direction. The City needs direct funding to improve the safety for people walking and biking and this $40 million will hopefully address that. But there are other solutions that address traffic violence that also need funding and attention to supplement the funding being allocated to roadway design improvements. Part 3 of the Moving Forward series will look at the role of Education, and how transportation education  programs and policies can reduce traffic violence.

Mandatory Drivers Education 

An easy and long overdue first step on this topic is for the State of Missouri to require mandatory driver’s education* for all new drivers.

Definition of Driver’s Education – The standard for many U.S. states is a minimum of 30 classroom hours of driver’s education and a certain number of hours supervised driving (from an accredited driving educator).

Currently, many schools and districts offer driver’s education, but it is not required by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to obtain a driver’s license. Instead of attending driver’s education, Missouri allows drivers to complete a minimum of 40 hours of supervised (which does not have to be with an accredited driving instructor) driving instruction, including a minimum of 10 hours of nighttime driving, plus a driving exam supervised by the Missouri State Highway Patrol to obtain a license. While this method does require potential drivers to show some form of knowledge and competence behind the wheel, it is not the standard that a majority of U.S. states require.

Leaders and elected officials across the State of Missouri seemingly lack consideration for safe driving practices. Along with being one of two states that doesn’t have any form of distracted driving legislation, Missouri is also one of a handful of states that do not require any driver’s education to obtain a license. Several other states follow a similar method, only requiring drivers to spend around 30-40 hours behind the wheel of a car to attain a license.

Driver’s Education Requirements for U.S. States

The State of Missouri must shift to a mandatory driver’s education platform that requires all drivers, (including transit operators, police & emergency vehicles operators, delivery vehicles, etc.) to complete a driver’s education course before they are granted a full drivers license, intermediate license, or any special driving license.

Enhancing Driver’s Education

Within the driver education courses there needs to be a greater focus on safe driving and interactions with vulnerable roadway users (people on bikes, people walking, people with mobility issues, etc). New drivers should be educated on the dangers of operating a vehicle, what different types of bike/pedestrian signage, signals, and infrastructure mean, and the proper way to interact with people biking on the road.

Dangers of Driving a Car

Driving a car is incredibly dangerous. Traffic crashes are the 12th leading cause of death for Americans (in 2019) and they are completely preventable. Driver’s education courses need to bring greater attention to just how dangerous traffic crashes can be, particularly those that involve a person walking or biking. Speed is often the biggest factor in traffic crashes. In NACTO City Limits, they note “a person hit by a car traveling at 35 MPH is five times more likely to die than a person hit by a car traveling at 20 MPH” and “a 5 mph increase in the maximum speed limit was associated with an 8% increase in the fatality rate on interstates and freeways, and a 3% increase in fatalities on other roads”.

“A person hit by a car traveling at 35 MPH is five times more likely to die than a person hit by a car traveling at 20 MPH”

NACTO City Limits

Rates of injuries and fatalities are also higher with larger vehicles. In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that pedestrians are two to three times more likely to die when hit by an SUV or pickup than by a passenger car. Vehicles like SUVs and large trucks are more dangerous to people walking and biking due to their increased vehicle weight and taller frame (often referred to as the “grill”) when compared to smaller vehicles like midsize sedans. Taller frames increase the likelihood of the vehicle hitting the chest and head area (which some people call the “kill zone”), where several vital organs are. A person (especially a child) also has a greater likelihood to be pulled under a larger vehicle rather than being pushed onto the hood when struck by a driver. 

Photo showing blind spots in front of a large SUV – photo source: NBC News

Education on Bike/Pedestrian Signs, Signals and Enhancements

A focus on specific bike and pedestrian signage/signals, and infrastructure enhancements also needs greater attention in driver’s education courses. New signage, traffic technology, and bike/pedestrian enhancements are introduced fairly frequently on our roads, understanding these things is imperative in decreasing dangerous driving behavior.

Education courses should routinely teach drivers how to react when pedestrian signals like rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFBs) or pedestrian hybrid beacons light up. Drivers should know what to do when they see smaller pavement markers like yield teeth or green dashed paint in a bike lane. Even more basic driving techniques, like how to drive in a roundabout, would drastically improve traffic safety. A lot of these signs/signals and bike/ped enhancements often go unnoticed by drivers. Reinforcing their meaning and how they protect people walking and biking is necessary for all driver’s education courses. Special attention for teaching drivers on how to interact with people riding bikes also needs consideration. All drivers should be aware on what bike hand signals mean, how much room is required when passing a biker, the dangers of a right and left hook, dooring, and other bike related movements. If you’re looking for more information/tips on driving near people biking, the League of American Bicyclist just released a training for Bicycle Friendly Driving.

Addition Safety tips for Drivers

  • When turning left or right, ensure that a person walking crosses the road completely before beginning your right or left turn.
  • Do not honk to notify a person biking that you are passing them
  • Novice bicyclists or children take a few pedal strokes as they get going to fully balance themselves as they gain momentum. Wait to pass if you are starting with them at an intersection – 3 or 4 pedal strokes.
  • Under Missouri law crosswalks are present at every place two roads intersect, even if a “marked” crosswalk is not visible. When a pedestrian is in this space, or looks like they have intent to cross, they have the right of way, and drivers and people biking must yield.
  • Missouri White Cane Law drivers must always yield the right-of-way to persons who are blind. When a pedestrian is crossing a street or highway guided by a dog or carrying a white cane (or a white cane with a red tip), vehicles must come to a complete stop.
  • Drivers must yield when a pedestrian is in a marked or unmarked crosswalk on or approaching their side of the road.

Additional Policies/Programs

Implementing and enforcing more drastic driver’s education policy/programs could also decrease dangerous driving behaviors. For example, drivers who have received multiple infractions for speeding/poor driving or those who have been charged for causing a crash should be required to take drivers education courses in order to retain their licenses. To take it one step further, driver’s education courses could also be required every time a person’s driver license expires, which is roughly every 6 years. 

More opportunities and funding for bicycle education is also a positive step to decreasing traffic violence for people biking. Nationwide, there needs to be more money available and greater access to Safe Routes to School funding. Locally, opportunities for programs that teach bike education in schools, courses aimed at city-riding, riding in the winter, bike commuting, and other biking situations would also increase the comfortability of many St. Louis bicyclists. To make this a reality, funding for local bike shops and organizations like St. Louis BWorks is greatly needed to staff and run these programs regularly and at no-cost to participants.

While I do think bicycle education is important to this conversation, I personally believe mandatory and enhanced driver’s education should be prioritized. The strategies aimed at driver’s education mentioned in this article have greater potential to increase roadway safety and decrease traffic violence for all roadway users. We can collectively teach every person in St. Louis how to ride a bike perfectly. We can equip every person with a helmet, the brightest lights, and cover them head-to-toe with reflective gear. But if a Ford-350 runs a stop light or is speeding and hits someone biking perfectly with all that gear, they are going to be the one who ends up hurt or dead, not the driver.

Driver behavior is changing. Drivers are more distracted and dangerous driver behavior like speeding and running red lights is now too common in St. Louis. People driving have the greatest potential to inflict injury or kill people who walk and bike. Our education programs and policies need to reflect this.

Driving a car is a privilege, not a right. It is easy for people driving to forget the dangers of driving a car. But we shouldn’t forget the facts. Traffic crashes are the 12th leading cause of death for Americans, and the second largest cause of death for children and adolescents (behind gun violence). In the City of St. Louis the number of people who have died due to traffic violence has risen for the 4th year in a row. It’s time to understand that traffic crashes are preventable. Education is a crucial preventative strategy for reducing traffic violence on our streets and it should be mandatory. Pushing the State of Missouri to require mandatory and enhanced driver’s education courses and programs, may reduce dangerous driving behavior on our streets.


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