Next Tuesday I am heading down to our state capital of Olympia to lend support for SB 5838, also known as the Vulnerable Roadway Users Act. This bill is apparently stalled with a 4-4 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I will attend a hearing intended to resolve the impasse.
I’m not sure what the opposition’s concerns are about this bill. Is there a fear that we would make people more accountable for negligent driving ?
The point of SB 5838 is to increase the consequences against drivers convicted of Negligent Driving 2, when a driver’s behavior maims or kills. According to the fact sheet I received from the Cascade Bicycle Club, SB 5838 does the following :
- Amends Negligent Driving 2, an infraction, which imposes a $250 fine
- Requires court appearance
- Requires completion of a traffic safety course
- Court may impose up to 200 hours of community service related to traffic safety
- If the traffic safety course and community service are not completed within a year, court can suspend driving privileges and impose fine of up to $5000
I’ve devoted a fair amount of thought to this subject, given what happened to me. Cascade Bicycling nails it when they say that the point of this act is to "reinforce the need to exercise due care when driving around vulnerable populations". My own motivations are not punitive, but to establish adequate motivations for drivers to pay careful attention to others when they’re on the road.
I do not wish ill on the driver who hit me, but would like to have some confidence that he learned something from his mistake. I have sent the following message to my state senator, Rodney Tom :
Subject : From a Bicycle Accident Survivor : Please Support SB 5838
Dear Senator Tom,
As a fellow athlete, I’m confident that this cause resonates with you. Like you I am a marathoner, and feed my body and soul by staying active. I am the father of two young girls as well.
On July 1st, 2008 I was riding my bicycle to work. While enroute, a driver took a sudden, unsafe turn onto a side street. He cut me off, and ran me over. I sustained many broken bones, a punctured lung, and lost the vision in one of my eyes. Most seriously, I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
The TBI required me to spend a week in a medically-induced coma in the Neuro ICU at Harborview Hospital in Seattle. A flap of my skull was removed to allow my brain room to swell and to heal properly. I spent a month in the hospital and faced a difficult recovery, which rendered me unable to work, drive, or to be an active and involved father to my children for a period of months.
In contrast, the driver who hit me was able to drive off that very day, and return to life as usual. He faced a $500 fine – which included an additional penalty for being uninsured. Despite the fact that he exercised very poor judgment which nearly cost me my life, he was able to simply drop a check into the mail – he did not even have to show up in court.
I was very fortunate. Because I had excellent medical care, and benefited from lots of love and support – I have recovered to a large degree. But I believe our laws do not establish adequate motivations for drivers to pay careful attention to others while they drive vehicles that have the power to easily take lives, or to profoundly alter them.
I urge you to support Senate Bill 5838, which would hold careless drivers who maim or kill vulnerable roadway users responsible for their actions. It would require a court hearing and reasonable penalties like driver retraining and community service.
I do not want to criminalize accidents. But I believe that our law enforcement officials should have any tools we can give them available to make our roads safer. For injured victims and their loved ones, this is the least we can do.
Thank you for your consideration,
I might have considered paying the $500 fine for the driver that hit me, if doing so would have meant he would have spent time working in a trauma unit, and witnessing a portion of what he caused with his poor judgment. I’m pretty sure spending time with TBI patients might have made a deeper impression on him than simply dropping a check into the mail. A clear demonstration of what careless driving does to human beings is likely to make a more lasting impression than denting the wallet would.
I am including the message sent from the Cascade Bicycle Club below. The story told in it bears relevance to me, because it very well could have been my story told in the letter. Washington State residents can also click here to send a message of support to their state senator.
Thanks very much for your support of this bill. It means a lot to me, and to my family.
On February 4, 2009, Kevin Black was bicycling to work at the University of Washington when a driver attempted an illegal U-turn in front of him. Kevin tried to maneuver around the large delivery van but was trapped underneath it and killed. The police cited the driver with a mere traffic ticket, nothing more.
The same morning, we introduced a bill in the State Senate to address cases where sober drivers still make deadly decisions. Sadly, the bill stalled in committee, but we are back a year later and need your help to pass the Vulnerable User Bill, Senate Bill 5838 and make it law.
How do we get drivers to use more care on the road? How do we find justice for Kevin and Michele Black and their two daughters, and thousands of other families in Washington? There are three things you can do to make a difference:
2. Forward this message to your friends and loved ones. Ask them to join in our efforts for justice.
3. Come to Olympia. Next Tuesday morning, January 26, the bill will have a second hearing to break a 4-4 split in the Senate Judiciary Committee. We need your help to move the bill forward. Please email us if you can come to Olympia and make our voices heard together.
You can join Michele Black and others in signing on the record in favor of the bill, which fills the gap between a simple traffic ticket and more serious offenses. It requires a court appearance and possible community service or license suspension for drivers who kill or gravely injure pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable users of the road. You can read more about the bill here.
We need your support to pass the Vulnerable User Bill – please email your senator today.
Thank you for all you do to make a safer community.
Cascade Bicycle Club