Cyclists who receive tickets while pedaling their bikes can get them dismissed by passing a self-paced online course.
The Center for Cycling Education in Austin started offering in-person cycling courses in July 2010. Two classes are offered — one geared toward basic cycling safety and another aimed at people who want to get a traffic ticket deferred.
This spring, the center put both courses online.
Now students can log into a website to take the self-paced courses, which cover topics such as when it’s safe to ride in the middle of a lane of moving vehicles, where in Austin biking on a sidewalk is prohibited and how to stay visible while riding.
The two classes are similar, but the defensive cycling version includes additional information about bike crashes and how people behave in traffic. It also skips a segment about basic bike handling skills. In order to get a ticket deferred, participants must take the class (and pass the included quizzes), submit a special form and pay their court fee.
I logged in to check it out.
I zipped through most of the basic skills class pretty easily in a couple of hours. One thing I liked? With a click on an icon, you can quickly see information about city and state laws related to the topic at hand. The accompanying videos are pretty good, too.
I learned some interesting statistics in the defensive cycling class, which takes a little longer.
Across the country, about 1 percent of trips are made by bicycle. In Austin, that number is 3 percent. But it’s even higher in the bicycle mecca of Portland, Ore., where 6 percent of trips are made on two wheels.
Booze or drugs, dark clothing, riding the wrong direction, not yielding right of way, improper turns and not obeying signs or signals all cause collisions. In Austin, an average of 315 crashes between bicyclists and motor vehicles are reported each year. Of those, about 90 percent cause injuries to the cyclist — a good reminder that it’s a lot more dangerous to make a risky move on a bike than in a car.
The best part was a video included in the course titled “It’s a Three Way Street,” which showed overhead footage of a busy New York City street. Between the bikes wobbling diagonally through the intersection to vehicles making illegal turns and pedestrians wandering where they shouldn’t, it reminded me how crazy things get out there.
Another message that came through loud and clear is that it’s not just cyclists, not just motorists and not just pedestrians who disobey traffic laws. A common factor among those who do, though, is a belief that their trip or needs are more important than those of others.
“We’re trying to change ingrained behavior. It’s really important to know what the possible consequences for your actions are if you’re disobeying the law,” said Allan Dunlop, founder of The Center for Cycling Education, a master instructor with the League of American Bicyclists and creator of the course.
“As cyclists, everything we do or do not do communicates something to the people around us. We need to work to get people to consider what message they’re getting across to others on the road,” he said. “It’s a matter of personal responsibility.”
Nearly 500 people have taken the classes since they were created in July 2010.
The classroom version of the course is offered from 6-9 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month at an as yet undetermined downtown location and from 6-9 p.m. the first Saturday of the month at the REI at 601 N. Lamar Boulevard. The online version is available at www.thecce.org. Tuition is $25.