note to washington state senator rodney tom : forget the form letters and listen to your fellow bikers

The other day, I posted about a bill being considered by the Washington State Senate, SB 5838 – aka the Vulnerable Roadway Users Act.  In that post, I included a letter I’d sent to State Senator Rodney Tom, who serves our district.  You can read the post and my letter here if you’re interested.  I received this reply yesterday evening :

First of all, I am sorry you were injured. I certainly appreciate you writing in regarding Senate Bill 5838, an act relating to traffic infractions. 
As an avid bicyclist who has done the Seattle to Portland bike ride and whose wife rides every single day, I understand your frustration with the way our current laws are written, which basically provide no protection for bicyclists.  I however believe that there are better ways to address the issue than in the punitive manner in which the current version of Senate Bill 5838 does. 
It’s human nature when one is harmed, especially when one is killed, to seek some kind of recourse to somehow make up for the tragic loss.  The problem with that is no matter what we do the loss will still be there.  America has the highest incarceration rate in the free world, yet our crime rates are not any lower.  Criminalizing accidents is not going to change driver behavior.  People are not going to stop dialing on their cell phones, which is probably the #1 driver distraction. 
I would hate to see a normally law abiding citizen with a family be thrown in jail and/or prison simply because they had a momentary lapse in judgment.  That basically puts every one of us at risk for a prison sentence and I believe that is far beyond the purpose of our criminal justice system.  A substitute for the original bill will soon be introduced that changes the imposed penalty to an enhanced infraction.  This fines the driver, will require the driver to attend a driver safety course, and require completion of community service within one year in order to retain their license and avoid a larger fine.  This more reasonable approach is one I can accept.
I’ve been a strong advocate for trying to get money to not only build bike lanes, but to maintain them.  As a bicyclist there is nothing more frustrating than having a bike lane you cannot ride in because all the sticks and rocks make passage with anything other than a mountain bike impossible.  I’ve also been a strong advocate for the reconstruction of the 520 bridge that will finally add a bike path to the bridge crossing, making easy access to the Burke-Gilman trail a safe alternative to those that want to ride recreationally.
Again, I want to thank you for your involvement and expressing your opinion and hope to address the core issue of bicycle safety in a manner that tries to alleviate accidents in the first place.
think Peace!
Rodney Tom
State Senator

And here is my response to Senator Tom, sent to him a few minutes ago :

Senator Tom,

I read your response to my note with disappointment.  It’s isn’t necessarily that we disagree on the bill being discussed.  In fact, I am supportive of the updated version.  But I would have expected a more direct, well-considered response from a fellow biker and marathoner.  You and your wife face these significant risks on the road yourselves, being avid bikers. Beyond this form letter I received (largely identical to the response my wife and others have received from you), I see no commitment from you to confronting an issue that is important to the community you serve – and also important to you personally.

Your comment below " I understand your frustration with the way our current laws are written, which basically provide no protection for bicyclists" alludes to a valid point.  To provide an illustration for it, consider this. If I had been driving a car instead of a bike, it would have been more straightforward for the City of Redmond to have pursued more serious charges against the driver who hit me.  This is because the rights of bicyclists to drive within their own lanes is apparently not as well-defined as they are for motorists.  While this point is beyond the scope of SB 5838, I’m confident that you’d agree that this is an important thing to address.

What is punitive about holding drivers accountable for a “lapse in judgment” ?  It is interesting to note that criminalizing accidents with stricter DUI laws has coincided with a decline of about 47% in alcohol-related deaths between 1980 and 2008.  Would you argue that DUI laws don’t work as a deterrent ?

This is a side note, but I take some offense at what you says about seeking “some kind of recourse to somehow make up for the tragic loss”.  I am fully aware that tougher laws will not bring my eyesight back, nor will it lessen the impact this accident has had on my family.  Let’s be clear – I would certainly never ask you for any sort of “legislative therapy”.

Thanks very much for your time and consideration.  I look forward to your response, and hopefully some positive change to the laws that will help keep bicyclists like us safer.

Paul David

Another observation is that he might consider ditching the “think Peace” signature when he’s blowing me off.  A simple “Sincerely” would not come across as quite so condescending.

I had expected more thoughtfulness on these issues from a fellow biker and runner.  Someone who spends a fair bit of time on the roads, and who I am certain witnesses quite a few negligent drivers himself. 

I’ve lost a degree of respect for Senator Tom because of this.


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