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Posted by on Oct 11, 2009 in Essays | 53 comments

Where do we find justice?

It is an injustice that we permit the careless and reckless to continue to wield such power, while those who present little or no risk to others are discouraged from using our streets.
—Mighk Wilson

I’ve been stewing on this story for a few days and debating whether (or what) to write about it.

You’ve probably heard the horrible story about the couple killed on a tandem bike in Texas. You may have seen the heart-wrenching photo of their orphaned, 7-year-old daughter. If you have, you’re probably angry, too, because you also know the driver who killed them will not be charged with anything.

Deputy Chief Bennett told News 4 WOAI the office’s hands are tied. He said under current law, unless a driver is drunk or high, it is difficult to prove recklessness. And legally, charges can not be filed for “an unfortunate accident.”

Go ahead. Scream.

Now walk with me for a moment.

If you’ve read the articles, you’ll notice lots of ire and blame is being directed at Governor Perry for vetoing the “vulnerable user” law. I think that’s an easy target, but it’s wrong.

truckThis problem is systemic, and it’s not bicycle specific. First of all, everyone is vulnerable. Over 40,000 Americans are killed by cars every year and the vast majority of them are in cars. This guy was driving his pick-up truck 70mph and veered into the shoulder at speed. He happened to hit two cyclists on a tandem bike.  If he had hit a disabled car, he would probably have seriously injured or killed the occupants, and possibly himself. He would have killed a motorist attending to the engine of a disabled car, or changing a tire. What if he’d gone the other way and hit a car head on, killing its occupants? Would their lives have been less valuable than two cyclists, pedestrians or motorcyclists? I guarantee their story wouldn’t have had nearly the half-life or drawn as much public anger and grief.

I have to wonder if the injustice of a careless motorist killing two cyclists and facing no charges is really as personal as it feels to us. Are the police unable to charge this guy because he hit cyclists, because the traffic statutes are inadequate, or because our culture is unwilling to come face to face with the responsibility and impact on others of operating a heavy vehicle at high speeds? Surely there are existing laws under which this driver could be charged.

If this man was playing with a gun and it accidentally went off, killing 2 people, would he be charged with something?

Check out the Wikipedia definition of negligent homicide. Note the last sentence about the Aeroperú crash. An engineer forgot to remove a piece of tape from a static port causing the plane’s instruments to fail. That engineer was charged with negligent homicide. Rightly so, it was his job. His competence (or lack thereof) affected the lives of dozens of people.

Driving a motor vehicle at 70mph does too — every other human being in your path (or near it).

There are things we need to change.

ostrichsignThe source of this justice problem is our social acceptance of inattentive driving. The majority of drivers engage in some form of distraction some of the time, and most get away with it all of the time. Who hasn’t arrived at their destination with no recollection of anything along the journey? The fear/realization that it could happen to any of us ought to make us take it more seriously, but it seems to do the opposite. Probably because we get away with it so often.

That’s the problem. You get away with it until you don’t. Life is forgiving until it isn’t. The rarity of catastrophe against what we get away with every day allows us to write off the consequences as “an accident.” Everyone is mortified when something like this happens, but the thought passes quickly because we wish to avoid cognition about the reality behind it.

We are united in this normative behavior by circumstances and environmental cues. Driving is boring and multitasking is irresistible. We’ve engineered our cities for car-dependence, complete with extremely boring and frustrating commutes—hours of wasted time, isolated and imprisoned. We’ve engineered our roads to be forgiving of inattentive drivers, with the unintended consequence of encouraging inattentive driving… and no thought as to how that might affect the rest of us.

Saith Chipseal:
“If we make the roads safer for them, will the roads be safer for us?”

How it affects us.

We hear about these horrible events because they are newsworthy. They stick in our minds because they are personal. But we need to remember the tens of thousands of cyclists who ride without incident. In a country of 300 million people, what makes the evening news is not a representative sampling.

The fear of inattentive drivers keeps cyclists from riding assertively, or causes them to ride miles out of their way to avoid some roads. It keeps some people from riding at all. Motorists use the inattentive driving norm to bolster their arguments that we don’t belong on “their” roads. It affects the way many law enforcement officers perceive the legitimacy of safe and lawful cycling on high speed roads.

Meanwhile, there’s little evidence that distracted driving is more of a problem for cyclists than for anyone else. There’s good reason to believe that assertive cycling actually mitigates the problem in most environments. Nonetheless, it’s interesting that most people (including many cyclists) think the safety solution is for gentle users to retreat and yield the commons to undeserving, careless clods… and to buy a bigger SUV.

When will it change?

It will change when all of us — you and me and our families, friends and neighbors — decide that inattentive driving is not OK, and we as a society are not going to tolerate it anymore.

Perhaps the careless driving statute needs teeth. Check out this provision added to Britain’s Road Safety Act:

Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving

This new piece of legislation means that should a driver be found guilty of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, they will receive a mandatory disqualification and have their licence endorsed as well as the penalties in the table below. This offence is linked to the standard and quality of driving. A driver will be found guilty of this offence if they have caused a death by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or another public place without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other person using the road or place. For example, a driver could be found guilty of this offence if they pull out onto a road and misjudge the flow of traffic – resulting in the death of another. It is important to appreciate that the driver will not be acting in a dangerous manner, as this would then fall under another offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

Perhaps the distracted driving law could provide some symbolic resolution. But the ultimate change is not going to happen until we own this problem and decide that operating a heavy vehicle at high speed requires continuous attention and a sense of responsibility for other users of the road, no matter what vehicles they drive.

The best thing cycling advocates can do is help push for broader, systemic solutions to the problem of irresponsible driving. We should steer clear of special interest legislation and embrace solutions that benefit everyone.

53 Comments

  1. Geez, Keri. I have nothing but “well said” to offer. Keep it up.

  2. On target. Perry is just a convenient scapegoat for many that are ignoring the REAL problem. People seem to frequently run into police cars on the shoulder with flashing lights. Lately, there’ve been a number of cases where drivers go down the freeway the wrong way.

    Space cadets on the road should NOT be tolerated.

  3. I suspect that inattentive driving has been with us since shortly after the inception of the the ICE powered vehicle. Horse drawn conveyances at least had a power plant that might be able to recognize some hazzards and act accordingly.

    Unfortunately there has been an exponential increase in the number of distraction in the past few years. Until people and society as a whole take driving seriously and treat it as a skilled task the carnage will continue. No amount of engineering can make up for the human behind the wheel.

    There needs to be a multi pronged approach. Increase driver training, start in elementary school teaching the basics of traffic, continue it all the way through high school. Then REQUIRE recurrent training on a regular basis to maintain a license. Currently you can receive a license at 16 years of age with around 40 hours of total training and never be tested again until you die unless you get caught violating traffic laws. That in itself is unacceptable. Show me any other high risk job that is done that way.

    ENFORCE laws to protect the most vulnerable users on the roads. We have plenty of existing laws on the books, but law enforcement and prosecutors don’t want to use them effectively nor properly.

    Aaron

  4. excellent. what about local communities adopting something like this? like the strict enforcement zones.

  5. Why shouldn’t laws be enforced even if the victims don’t happen to be the most vulnerable users? Sure, I don’t want to be run over, but neither do I want someone T-boning my wife at an intersection when she’s in the Land Rover. Dead is dead…

  6. The traffic justice movement seems to going nowhere, except for the ill-advised “vulnerable users” laws. I think the reason is that, quite frankly, the average American is more concerned with the hyper-miniscule risk of being killed a terrorist attack than dying in a traffic crash. But even before 9/11 the interest in tightening up driver responsibility was low.

    The benefits of driving a car are still seen to be much higher than the costs.

    David Engwicht has developed some interesting methods for neighborhoods to safely increase uncertainty in the minds of motorists, but I think people are generally too busy to implement them. And there is no sense of “ownership” on our arterials, where the bulk our fatals happen, so David’s techniques won’t work there.

  7. World events can have interesting, wide-reaching effects. Financial firm Raymond James recently put out a report putting the risk of some sort of military action involving Iran (probably initiated by Israel) during the coming year at >50%. Such an even would likely lead to Iran mining the Strait of Hormuz, where about 20% of the world’s oil currently funnels through on supertankers. They quote a Harvard study saying it would take 1 to 3 months for the US military to get the Strait opened again.

    (Even if the Strait isn’t blocked, Iran would halt oil exports, which accounts for about 2 percent of global production.)

    A 20% drop in global supply will mean outrageous gas prices that will make last summer’s $4.00 seem to be a sweet bargain — that is, if you can even get gas.

    We will have lots of bicycling company on our roadways in such an event. The empathy factor Salter-Mitchell noted — that motorists have low empathy for cyclists because they either don’t ride, or only ride for recreation — will shift for the better.

    • While I hope for a situation where we can get more cyclists on the road, I certainly hope it doesn’t take a war to bring it about.

  8. Doesn’t local law enforcement owe it to the public to make a case for reckless driving in this case? Let a jury decide whether the charges are warranted or not. I’m tired of police or district attorneys using this “cop-out” that they can’t bring charges unless alcohol or drugs are involved. Taking your eyes off the road while driving shows reckless disregard for others.

  9. Florida Statutes (which is based on the Uniform Vehicle Code) states: “Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”

    Proving “willful or wanton” is difficult. Imagine the average jury being asked to convict a man for doing something they do all the time — taking their attention from the road for a few seconds. Would they — or a judge — see such behavior as willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property? No.

    Carelessness is however very easy to prove. The problem is that carelessness while operating a massive missile in the public realm is not seen as criminal, but carelessness while handling a gun is.

  10. Yeah, as Mighk has mentioned a number of times, the problem is the giant hole between careless driving and reckless driving. Currently penalties for careless driving (negligence) are happening in the civil courts. But those penalties are primarily paid by the perpetrator’s insurance company, and they are happening outside the public eye. The lack of legal action is what is happening in the public eye.

    I think the recent addition to the British Road Safety Act could be a model for closing that hole in the statute.

  11. Excellent article, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment to seek out broader changes to fix inattentive driving. The biggest problem with cars on the road is the irresponsible/inattentive/incapable drivers operating them.

  12. Keri wrote:

    “Currently penalties for careless driving (negligence) are happening in the civil courts.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Looks like you need Ontario’s laws. Careless driving is good for up to six months in jail here.

    From:

    http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90h08_e.htm#BK194

    “Every person is guilty of the offence of driving carelessly who drives a vehicle or street car on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway and on conviction is liable to a fine of not less than $200 and not more than $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both, and in addition his or her licence or permit may be suspended for a period of not more than two years.”

    Dangerous driving causing death remains a Criminal Code offense good for up to 10 years in prison.

    • Looking at the laws in other “developed nations.” It seems like the U.S. is unique in its abandonment of accountability to drive responsibly. Or at least way behind in correcting the problem.

      • We as a society have abandoned accountability in nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

  13. Great job!

    A perfect example of this issue is the wrist dangling lackadaisically over the steering wheel. Is that driver truly in control of that vehicle?

    I think not!

  14. this was no accident, and it could have been prevented if the driver of the pickup drove more carefully. he should have the book thrown at him, but no matter what you do to careless drivers after they cause collisions it won’t prevent anyone else from driving carelessly. there are people that appreciate the responsibility that comes with operating a vehicle on the roads and act accordingly. the people who don’t do so because of a false sense of security that comes from practicing bad driving habits without incident. it’s not a question of enforcement, but one of changing people’s perceptions.

    anyway, i was shocked that even the most basic 3 foot passing law was vetoed by the governor of Texas. from what i understand the governorship cited laws already on the books that impose penalties for people who cause crashes. obviously this case doesn’t illustrate the effectiveness of those laws. damn it, i’m pissed.

  15. Dear bencott, SB488 was and is a silly and useless law. Gov. Perry was right to veto it, and no doubt that is why he is getting so much flack for it.

    Here is a good summery and history of the development of that dreck,
    http://velociped.kempiweb.net/ntvc/2009/06/safe-passing/

    and why I opposed it can be seen here.
    http://chipsea.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-i-am-glad-sb-488-is-dead.html

    I have identified five clear violations of current Texas law made by that killer if press reports of the crash are true. A three foot passing law would simply be a sixth law that would’ve been ignored.

    The problem is not a lack of statutes.

    • “A three foot passing law would simply be a sixth law that would’ve been ignored.”

      I was under the impression that the way the TX vulnerable user law was written, it would not have applied if the cyclist was in a bike lane or shoulder.

      It really was a badly-written law. Gov. Perry’s reasons for the veto were legit.

      • Yes, if the cyclist were in a bike lane, a “separate lane” in the bill, the minimum three foot distance no longer applied if the motorist remained in his lane.

  16. Bencott wrote:
    “…no matter what you do to careless drivers after they cause collisions it won’t prevent anyone else from driving carelessly.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I disagree. I believe that law enforcement has a deterrent effect. The Minister of Transport boasts that Ontario’s roads are the safest in North America. It is my belief that one of the major reasons for this is the laws and law enforcement that are in effect.

    See:

    http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/orsar/orsar06/chp1_06.shtml

    I’ll give an example in my next post.

  17. I tried to pick an example that was similar to the one that started this thread. Here’s one that I found at:

    http://www.thespec.com/News/Local/article/591827

    A young couple and an older man killed by an out-of-control SUV.

    This difference here in Ontario was that the SUV driver was charged with Dangerous Driving Causing Death (good for up to 10 years in jail) and Criminal Negligence Causing Death (good for a life sentence in jail).

    Please note that these are the exact same charges laid in the high-profile case of Her Majesty’s former attorney-general for Ontario, Michael Bryant.

    In other words, Michael Bryant was treated the same as anyone else who kills on the roads due to dangerous driving and negligence.

    And that is one reason why Ontario has the safests roads in North America.

    • > In other words, Michael Bryant was treated the same as anyone else who kills on the roads due to dangerous driving and negligence.

      Well, he had better legal representation than most, and even had a PR firm out trying to make a good name for himself during the case — so it wasn’t quite the same as anyone else.

      And the case was quite different — Michael Bryant’s case was a road rage altercation rather than an “out of control vehicle”.

      • I am not used to someone replying to one of my comments almost three years later.

        If you like, I will amend the statement to read “Michael Bryant was charged by the police with the same criminal charges as anyone else who kills on the roads due to dangerous driving and negligence.”

        His treatment after being charged was different from an ordinary person.

        In particular, since Mr Bryant had previously held the position of Her Majesty’s attorney-general for Ontario, his job included providing advice to Her Majesty about who to appoint or promote for Crown Attorneys in Ontario. Therefore every Crown Attorney in Ontario could be accused of being beholden to him to some extent. Or perhaps the opposite for those passed over for promotion!

        So to avoid the appearance of any undue influence a totally independent Crown Attorney was brought in from British Columbia to handle the prosecution. This gentleman decided that a jury would be unlikely to convict and therefore quashed the prosecution.

        Needless to say, this was a tremendously controversial call. There were a lot of people saying “one government official whitewashing another.”

        In my opinion, whenever a Minister of the Crown kills someone, it should always and automatically go before a criminal jury. Canada is a democracy, not a republic. A jury is one of the ways that the people hold the government accountable.

        One could say “This means that successful politicians are being held to a higher standard than ordinary people.” My reply is “so what.”

        Suppose someone stands for election for parliament and is so successful as a politician that they are part of the group of people who has the confidence of a majority of the Members of Parliament so that Her Majesty summons them to form the government. OK, that’s a bit of a run-on sentence. But not bad as a one-sentence summary of modern parliamentary democracy.

        Anyway, why shouldn’t Ministers of the Crown be held to a higher standard? If someone doesn’t like that, they don’t have to become a successful politician. Or they can at least refrain from subsequently killing anyone.

  18. I watched two young men battling along the highway the other night, weaving in and out of traffic as they chased each other at high speeds, probably due to some insignifcant disrespectful act. I am a motorist, I don’t drive like they do. I stop at stop signs, even when no one is looking. I actually yield when it is stated and I am courteous to those in front, beside and behind me.
    I watched a group of cyclists blast through a stop sign as though it was invisible on a group ride recently. Probably due to the need to get their workout in and to feel like part of the pack, and to not get left behind.
    I am a cyclist, I don’t ride like they do.
    I stop at stop signs, even when no one is looking. I actually yield when it is stated and I am courteous to those in front, beside and behind me.
    I other words, I am the cyclist and motorist that never makes the news. I am the one that loves driving her car, who feels good that I share the road with other cars, and the same thing goes for being on my bicycle, I feel good when I ride along in traffic.
    I make eye contact, signal my intentions and that goes for both car and bicycle.
    I bet a lot of you are of the same mind, yet everyone wants to be mad at someone else. Perhaps leading by example is old fashioned, but I took drivers education for my motoring and I took a Road 1 class for my bicycling.
    I have no more fear than when I was a runner, skateboarder or any other sport that I have enjoyed.
    It’s about basic human respect, and what is it that makes people just a little crazy when they strap on a truck, or a fast road bike? I just don’t get it.
    Wishing you all safe driving and cycling, perhaps we might wave at one another as we tool along?

    • Totally. Whenever I polarize myself against drivers I tend to get as miserable as I was when I drove a car. In so many areas (waiting in line at stores and restaurants, conversations) we pit ourselves against others in a kind of duel. I hate it. I try to keep that mentality out of my bicycling and write off the a-holes as the same a-holes I used to shake my head at when I drove everywhere. But they are singular a-holes, not the more extreme cases of what all the drivers are thinking, ykwim?

      Also, I got a new basket today!

      …you know, ’cause I’m short on storage with my Madsen bucket… :)

  19. Brilliant post. Thanks for sharing.

    Distracted driving is a complicated problem which requires that we modify people’s behavior.

    To modify people’s behavior we need more than laws and education. We need innovative safe driving solutions that are contextual to the motorist experience and that help people understand the consequences (both negative and positive) of the choices they make.

    My name is Matt Howard and i am the founder of http://www.ZoomSafer.com where we’ve created patented software for mobile phones that prevents distracted driving by helping motorists make better decisions.

    The service automatically activates when you’re driving and applies a policy that determines what you can/can’t do with your phone. By helping consumer and corporate drivers make better choices ZoomSafer reduces the risk of crashes, saves lives, and saves money.

    The beta is currently available for FREE for all Blackberry devices. If you’re interested, please feel free to check it out.

    Thanks for the opportunity to post. Matt@ZoomSafer.com

  20. It’s surprising to me, but not real surprising, that there may not be statute language in state vehicle codes saying something about a duty to avoid a collision. So whether one party is reckless is irrelevant; somebody or somebodies are guilty to a combined amount of 100%. It seems obvious, but a google search of “duty to avoid collision” doesn’t produce much.

    In NC we have:
    §20-141. Speed restrictions. (m) The fact that the speed of a vehicle is lower than the foregoing limits shall not relieve the operator of a vehicle from the duty to decrease speed as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle or other conveyance on or entering the highway, and to avoid injury to any person or property.

    I think there ought to be a statute with stronger language saying you have a duty to avoid collision, but I’m hoping this would be strong enough.

    Wayne

    • From Texas Transportation Code:

      Sec. 545.351. MAXIMUM SPEED REQUIREMENT.

      (a) An operator may not drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances then existing.

      (b) An operator:
      (1) may not drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for actual and potential hazards then existing; and
      (2) shall control the speed of the vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with another person or vehicle that is on or entering the highway in compliance with law and the duty of each person to use due care.

      (c) An operator shall, consistent with Subsections (a) and (b), drive at an appropriate reduced speed if:
      (1) the operator is approaching and crossing an intersection or railroad grade crossing;
      (2) the operator is approaching and going around a curve;
      (3) the operator is approaching a hill crest;
      (4) the operator is traveling on a narrow or winding roadway; and
      (5) a special hazard exists with regard to traffic, including pedestrians, or weather or highway conditions.

  21. First off — nicely written post Keri.

    Here is my $.02!

    It might also make sense to have drivers retake “some” driving competency/skills classes, every so often, after they become legally licensed.

    My reasoning comes from an academic setting, where I felt that tenured university professors should have to re-qualify every five years or so. This might keep them on the leading edge. I am NOT saying all tenured professors are bad.

    It might keep our driving population better educated/trained.

    Peace :)

  22. Wayne wrote:
    “I think there ought to be a statute with stronger language saying you have a duty to avoid collision…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    How about this one, from Ontario’s “Highway Traffic Act.”

    Onus of disproving negligence

    193. (1) When loss or damage is sustained by any person by reason of a motor vehicle on a highway, the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct of the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle is upon the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle. 2005, c. 31, Sched. 10, s. 3.

    Source:

    http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90h08_e.htm#BK279

  23. People are afraid of having strict accountability – because they fear that on any given day, they could have been that driver.

    • If one is being diligent and responsible in their actions, and something goes wrong, then one should not be in fear of being held accountable.

      After all, YOU were the one that signed the contract to be a mindful, safe, and responsible operator the day you were granted the privilege to operate a motor vehicle.

      Don’t want the worry of accountability, then personally revoke the privilege and turn in your operators license before close of the next business today.

      • For clarification, my previous reply to Brian was made to be expressed in general and not directed toany one individual.

  24. Keri, brilliant post. Look at all the thoughtful comments you’ve generated!

    Comments:

    (1) I want recurrent driver testing too. But it’d be very hard to get. There would be intense opposition from organized groups that represent drivers that are likely to fail recurrent testing (hint: it’s age-based). In our state legislature, I would predict that legislators who often help cyclists would find excuses to back away from this one.

    (2) For decades, I’ve watched cops and lawyers announce their own, sometimes far-fetched, interpretation and then solemnly intone that it is an unalterable fact. No it’s not — it’s their opinion. It is the Texas cops’ opinion that this is not a criminal act. I don’t share that opinion.

    (3) Hang out in the assistant DA’s office and you’ll smell the culture: these guys are ex-football players who keenly watch their won/lost records. They think a case like this would be difficult to win, so they don’t want to prosecute.

    (4) It _would_ take some luck to win the case. The defense only needs one juror who is willing to make excuses for the bad drivers. Then they get a hung jury, if not an acquittal.

    (5) BUT if you _did_ see more of these cases tried, a few would get convicted. And I think this would, at least over time, have the deterrent effect that Kevin cites. It isn’t so much that people think “I can get away with murder.” I doubt most non-cyclists know how lousy the enforcement is. Rather, if there _were_ strict enforcement, word would get out. As in, “Smitty hit a bike rider and had to do three years of state time. Don’t hit a bike rider!”

    (6) Even unsuccessful criminal prosecutions are no picnic for the accused. The prosecution is a punishment in itself.

    • All good points, John! Let me piggy-back on this one:

      (1) I want recurrent driver testing too. But it’d be very hard to get.

      We have some powerful natural allies in this endeavor that we ought to appeal to. The ones who are footing the bill for all the mayhem- Auto insurance companies. Companies with a large fleet of equipment on the road, like utilities, FedEx, food distributors and the like. They are subject to higher costs and delays because of distracted driver mayhem too.

  25. John wrote:

    “…if there _were_ strict enforcement, word would get out.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    I agree. I believe that having good laws and strict enforcement of them results in safe roads. I believe that Ontario and The Netherlands are examples of places that do have good laws and good enforcement. I believe that these are key reasons why Ontario has the safest roads in North America and The Netherlands has the safest roads in the world.

    I also believe that the relationship between road safety and cycling rates is not coincidental. Where I live in Toronto the car mode share is down to 26% and falling. Not coincidence.

    As a US citizen, I also believe that it is time for the USA to benchmark best practices in the rest of the world in traffic laws and safety. Particularly in the areas of careless driving, impaired driving, and civil liability. Catching up to the best in the rest of the world would make the USA a better place.

  26. I would like to see the clergy get involved in this. Christianity, and most religions, hold that one should treat others as one wants to be treated. What person does not want other people on the road, regardless of mode, to be watching out for them (and their loved ones) and behaving responsibly? So it is then incumbent on them (that is, on all of us) to behave that way toward others. “The big we” need to be reminded of that. In sermons. Repeatedly. It won’t solve the problem, but it probably would help. Government alone can’t fix this.

  27. Keri wisely said: “it’s not bicycle specific. First of all, everyone is vulnerable.

    Tonight and tomorrow, listen to the rush hour traffic report. How many wrecks do they report? How is this an acceptable situation? Most of them are not fatalities, more have injuries involved, but all of them have property damage in the thousands of dollars.

    Hard times are upon us, the Great Recession rolls on. Should our society be comfortable with this constant avoidable drain on our resources?

    We need to make the connection for our neighbors that the high cost of their mandated car insurance is mostly due to the incompetent drivers that are tolerated in our midst.

    If it were likelier for a motorist to find himself afoot, it would go a long way to concentrating his mind to the task at hand when he is behind the wheel.

    For young drivers who cause even the slightest property damage, they should have their license suspended for six months automatically, until they attain a more mature age, say twenty one years old. (You can text all you want when you are afoot!)

    A law such as this would open the door for stricter laws and penalties for all drivers.

    A more civil public street is better for all of us, not just cyclists.

    • Re: young drivers. Australia is already doing this with provisional licenses (P-plates), several other countries have similar systems.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L-plate#Newly_qualified_drivers

      I think Kevin’s suggestion that the U.S. examine the best practices of other countries is spot on. Other countries are aggressively dealing with roadway safety while we are like the ostrich on the warning sign.

    • “We need to make the connection for our neighbors that the high cost of their mandated car insurance is mostly due to the incompetent drivers that are tolerated in our midst.”

      Not only incompetent drivers, UNINSURED and UNLICENSED incompetent drivers. That’s what happens in Florida when an incompetent driver has his license lifted. Then, while he is uninsured, because he is incompetent, he wrecks again. This is why all of our Uninsured Motorist coverage rates have soared and mine now equals the rate I am charged for liability coverage.

      Our jails are full of drug addicts, who, when they are released take to the streets in automobiles and ofetn times go back to their previous “habits.” So putting someone in jail just because they are incompetent at driving is something the judges don’t want to do.

      • So putting someone in jail just because they are incompetent at driving is something the judges don’t want to do.

        My translation: Judges are derelict in their duty to uphold the law and we tolerate it.

  28. Eric wrote:
    “Our jails are full of drug addicts… So putting someone in jail just because they are incompetent at driving is something the judges don’t want to do.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Canada treats drug addiction as primarily a medical problem, not a criminal issue. Not having a “war on drugs,” judges in Ontario have no problem putting dangerous drivers in jail.

    I believe that this is a far more appropriate use of law enforcement and prison resources. Not to mention a far higher success rate in treating addiction.

  29. Mr. Norman Benzing found about how we handle things here. His wife got a front row seat.

    Miss Sara Bragg, a crackhead who was completely wiped out, a resident of a “half-way” house on Kaley Street, was turned loose with an automobile. That automobile jumped up on yhe sidewalk (in mid block) and killed Norman Benzing.

  30. Here are my comments from Bob Mionske’s essay.

    Good points about rare and large vs. everyday, less lethal incidents. That’s why people worry about the highly unlikely case of an airline crash or the negligible probability of a large scale U.S. commercial nuclear power plant disaster, but ignore the fact that we metaphorically blow up a Chernobyl on our roads every year, year in and year out.

    But I don’t like vulnerable user laws or hate crime laws. They suggest that some crime or accident victims are more worthy than others. I neither want to be more worthy, or more pitied than anyone else.

    A person killed in his Prius by a reckless Hummer operator is just as dead as a cyclist killed by a reckless Prius owner. What we need to do instead of defining classes of victims is to raise the standards of accountability for all operators and more effectively uphold standards of due care, prosecuting those who kill and maim regardless of the identity of the victim. If you hurt someone due to your negligence, carelessness, or recklessness, you should be held accountable. Because bicyclists and pedestrians are expected to be using the roads or crossing them, “I didn’t see (fill in the blank)” is no excuse.

    I fully concur with Serge and others that the other part of this discussion that we don’t hear enough about is cyclist accountability and riding expertise. There is a lot a cyclist can do to mitigate his or her risks through behavior and training. For those rare times when a cyclist is hit through no fault of his/her own, the law should be just but firm.

    • Excellent comment Khal! Thanks for sharing it here.

      Here’s a link to the Mionske article.

    • Indeed. If there were a comment ranking system in place I’d vote-up this one.

  31. FYI. I was just googling this case for something else I’m working on and see that the driver was indicted on 2 counts of criminally negligent homicide a year after the crash.
    Here’s a story

  32. Well, we will see what happens.

  33. We need a means of transport where one mistake doesn’t result in serious injury or death. We have to get something better than the motor vehicle and road system we have.

  34. Ideally biking on the streets would always be safe and motorists would pay close attention to us two-wheelers. Instead drivers are in a hurry and usually checking their iPhones and BlackBerries. Tragedy follows, and it’s heartbreaking, devastating, every time one of these horrible incidents occurs. Cyclists, a typically smart and careful bunch, are only as safe as the most distracted texting teenager behind the wheel. Take to the sidewalks and off-road paths, my friends. It’s time for knobby tires. It’s way more fun than riding the roads and we get to live to tell about it.

    • Foolish fellow,
      Dangerous drivers are all around us. They drive up and over curbs to kill pedestrians and cyclists alike. The paths have to have big signs saying “No motorized vehicles” and bollards to keep the dangerous drivers out.

      They even crash through buildings and kill people sitting in their living room watching TV. Here in central Florida, we are the building crashing center of the world.

      There is no safe place from these idiots. Rather than telling us to avoid them, so they can kill you on the interstate, your time would be better spent working to get the dangerous drivers off the road. That is not the path of least resistance.

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