Washington state bicycle advocates are pushing for a law to make it illegal for a motorist to seriously injure or kill a vulnerable roadway user — such as a bike rider — in a crash caused by ordinary negligence.
All too often, motorists receive mere traffic tickets and don’t even have to appear in court when their inattentive driving results in a bicyclist’s or pedestrian’s death.
The Cascade Bicycle Club, among others, is sponsoring a Traffic Justice Summit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Seattle City Hall’s Bertha Knight Landes Room to discuss changing the law.
Bike riders, pedestrians, and motorcyclists can be the most vulnerable when a motorist commits a simple traffic violation.
When a car driver changes lanes into another car or makes a left turn in front of an oncoming vehicle, for instance, a couple of crumpled fenders is usually the worst result. Put a bicyclist into that equation, however, and a death or serious injury results.
Unless the motorist is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or intentionally trying to hit someone, prosecutors say its impossible to charge vehicular homicide, even if the driver was texting on a cellphone or otherwise not paying attention to traffic.
Although every state has many examples of this injustice, a recent crash in Texas is getting a lot of attention.
Greg and Alexandra Bruehler were killed when their tandem bicycle was hit by a driver who veered off the road when a curve appeared unexpectedly. They leave behind a 7-year-old daughter. A Sheriff’s deputy told WOAI news:
“Was he texting? Was he on the phone? What was the issue? Why was he distracted? Why did he go off the road? Driver inattention…is basically what it amounts to. And there’s nothing we can do about drivers not paying attention.”
In 2007, Oregon passed a law that requires stricter penalties for anyone who kills or injures a vulnerable user and is convicted of careless driving. The penalties, listed at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance:
- Two mandatory court appearances (current standards do not require an appearance)
- 100-200 hours of community service
- Completion of a traffic safety course
- Up to $12,500 fine (waived if above requirements met)
- One-year license suspension (waived if above requirements met, but ODOT can place an additional administrative suspension)
Traffic Justice Summit
This week’s summit is sponsored by Cascade Bicycle Club, Feet First, Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess, City Attorney Tom Carr, Washington State Bicycle Association, Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Washington Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs, Association of Washington Cities, The Washington Bus and Publicola.
“Washington needs a new law making it illegal to cause serious bodily injury or death to vulnerable roadway users due to ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence should be defined as committing a traffic infraction that endangers life and property. Prosecutors would be more likely to charge this crime if it was easier to prove and less serious than the present crimes of Vehicular Assault or Vehicular Homicide.
“In addition, law enforcement would be more likely to recommend criminal prosecution for if a new status of crime victims was more widely recognized that would include bicyclists and other roadway users who are more vulnerable to being injured by negligent driving than persons encased in the protective steel of motor vehicles.”
Some of these issues were addressed in Senate Bill 5838, which didn’t make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last February. Let’s hope vulnerable user legislation gets signed into law by the governor this year.