Green Bay, Wisconsin
Peter Flucke, President, WE BIKE
The enforcement of laws, both for bicyclists and motorists, is critical to improving bicycle safety and enjoyment. Very little effective enforcement typically occurs, however, in U.S. cities and towns. Wisconsin’s Enforcement for Bicycle Safety (EBS) course was designed to help law enforcement agencies and officers correct this situation.
Police officers are the only ones who can enforce laws, yet most officers never receive any bicycle-specific training. Bicycle issues generally are not a police priority. The public and many officers assume that since officers are trained in traffic enforcement, this training includes bicycle safety. Police officers tend not to enforce laws that they do not know or cannot justify enforcing.
In Wisconsin, police recruits receive 400 hours (and soon 520) of basic standards training, of which 10 hours cover traffic law. Laws related to bicycling could be covered during this basic training, but they normally aer not discussed. Following recruit school, newly hired officers go through 10+ weeks of field training. This is another bicycle training opportunity, but it is seldom used. All police officers are required to take 24 hours of continuing education each year. This presents a third opportunity for bicycle safety training, but until the creation of EBS in 1995, there was no such training available (this absence of training tends to be true nationwide). Therefore, most police officers have never been taught the leading causes of bicycle crashes, the laws specific to bicycle safety, and how selective enforcement can improve bicycle safety. Without this information, police officers are unlikely to contribute significantly to bicycle safety and enjoyment in their communities.
Enforcement for bicycle safety is part of police culture in only a few communities. EBS is changing the belief of both officers and the public that “Bicycle violations are trivial.” Bicycle safety should be a recognized part of every officer’s job. In 2001, 728 bicyclists were killed and 45,000 were injured in reported crashes with motor vehicles in the United States (U.S. DOT, 2002).
Law enforcement has a role, along with engineering, education and encouragement, in improving bicycle safety. Well-targeted enforcement (with or without citations) has great potential to positively affect bicycle safety and enjoyment. Officers can also help engineers, educators and others to identify possible problems and solutions.
The Enforcement for Bicycle Safety Course (EBS) was developed in 1995 for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety, in conjunction with the Law Enforcement Training Center at Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) in Cleveland, WI. LTC was chosen because courses developed with a state-certified law enforcement training center are automatically approved by the Department of Justice for continuing education hours and training dollars.
EBS is a two-day course designed to give police officers the basic bicycle safety information they need to manage traffic and provide a safe bicycling environment in their communities. The course is designed for all police officers who are assigned patrol duties and will encounter bicyclists. Officers patrolling by bicycle and those involved in bicycle education find EBS particularly helpful. Topics covered include bicycle history, bicycle types, why and where people bicycle, engineering, bicycle crashes, enforcement, laws, crash investigation and reporting, education, bicycle theft, bicycle registration, police bicycle patrols, and on-bike training.
Courses initially were offered through the state’s law enforcement training centers at vocational-technical colleges, but this approach was quickly abandoned in favor of offering the course through individual police departments.
For the first few years of the course, officers were given pre-tests and post-tests designed to measure both their basic bicycle safety knowledge and their attitudes about enforcement for bicycle safety. The bicycle enforcement activities of 10 officers from one department were evaluated for a five-year period before the course and then one year after the course. Feedback is solicited from course participants following every course via a course evaluation form. The number of officers trained is tracked, and the future bicycle safety activities of some of these officers are monitored. Requests for courses and presentations about the course are tracked both within and outside of the state.
Initially, it was difficult to schedule courses and to fill them once scheduled. It seemed logical to offer the course through the vocational-technical colleges because this is where police officers receive their recruit school and continuing education training. But because of a lack of familiarity with the topic and insufficient advertising, few of these courses were successful. Once the courses were transferred to individual departments they became highly successful. The success of department-run courses is primarily because of incentives and marketing. Hosting departments are offered free spots in the course once a minimum number of students is reached. Hosting departments advertise the course heavily to reach this minimum and receive the free spots.
There now are three instructors running regular EBS courses in the state, but reliable course data is available from only one instructor. That instructor, the course developer, has conducted 15 courses over the last eight years. Class sizes average approximately 11 students, and 167 officers have been trained.
During the eight years that the course has been offered, the types of officers participating has changed. For the first few years, most of the attendees were new to the law enforcement field, had little, if any, bicycle experience and were sent by their training officers. Over the years this has changed. More recently the course has attracted officers who have experience in law enforcement (three to five years plus), are already trained as bicycle patrol officers (either by the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association (LEBA) or IPMBA) and have requested the training. Because of their on-bike training and experience, these latter trainees have tended to do better in the course and enjoyed it more.
Based on pre- and post-test results, officers attending EBS significantly improve both their bicycle safety knowledge and their attitudes about enforcement for bicycle safety. Typical comments from officers include, “I wish that I had taken this course years ago,” and “It would be a good idea to send every officer through your class.” One supervisor commented, “This is the first time that an officer came back from a (class) and shared the information…. Thank you for the presentation.”
The bicycle enforcement activities of 10 officers from one department were evaluated for a five-year period before the course and then one year after the course. Before the course, these officers had issued only two citations for bicycle violations. The year following the course, each officer wrote an average of three to five citations. These numbers do not include citations to motorists for bicycle safety-related stops or contacts that did not result in a citation. Those types of enforcement activities are believed to have increased as well.
Following their participation in the EBS course, many students have increased their level of participation in bicycle safety activities. Some make more enforcement contacts, others have sought out additional bicycle safety training and have become instructors for this and other courses. One officer now sits on the board of directors for a state bicycle advocacy organization. All of these activities indicate an increased level of awareness and interest among police officers of bicycling issues.
Developing instructors for the course has been difficult. Police officers, or former police officers, seem to be the most credible when teaching other officers. But, because of their workloads and schedules, most police officers have little free time for other jobs. Also, relatively few officers are interested in teaching bicycle safety to other officers. An instructor course was conducted in 1996 shortly after EBS was developed; however, none of the participants had taken the course before and only two graduates went on to teach courses. Another instructor course was conducted in 2001 using only former EBS graduates. The six instructor candidates still need to co-teach with the lead instructor, but then they will be certified.
EBS has gained national recognition. Courses or presentations about the course have been made in Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Washington. Portions of the course recently were incorporated into a new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration course, “Community Bicycle Safety: For Law Enforcement.”
The most effective means of introducing bicycle safety knowledge and activities into law enforcement likely is through inclusion of bicycle safety training in police recruit schools and field training for new officers. Until this happens, continuing education training, like EBS, will have to fill the gap. EBS training dramatically improves the knowledge, activity levels, and attitudes of police officers about enforcement for bicycle safety. This type of training should be incorporated into every law enforcement department in the country.
The cost of the EBS course is $90 to $100 per officer, but departments that sponsor a course receive a discount, usually free spaces in the course. The course is approved by the Wisconsin Department of Justice and training dollars can be used to pay for attendees.
Funding for the initial development of the course in 1995 was provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation-Bureau of Transportation Safety (WisDOT-BOTS) using Federal Highway Safety (402) Funds. The cost was about $10,000. WisDOT-BOTS paid approximately $10,000 to revise and update the course materials in 2001.
1144 Hawthorn Rd.
Green Bay, WI 54313-5812
(920) 497-3196 (Fax)
JoAnne Pruitt Thunder
Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Program Manager
Wisconsin Department of Transportation -
Bureau of Transportation Safety
4802 Sheboygan Avenue
PO Box 7936, RM. 951
Madison, WI 53707-7936