Sunday, May 08 2016 @ 10:03 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
BY Andrew Zaleski, Next City
His fear would soon turn to anger when he realized that local police had no interest in pursuing charges against the woman who nearly killed his wife. After the State Highway Patrol’s investigation concluded that there were no grounds for felony charges, the district attorney also demurred from pressing charges.
“As far as the state of Mississippi goes, you could be an armadillo hit on the road, and the state treats you just the same as a… cyclist,” Morgan says.
“When we turned around. Her boyfriend was screaming, ‘Oh my God, she’s run over her!’”
“She should not have been found guilty of a crime because she did not commit a crime,” said Norton’s attorney, C. Marty Haug. “Criminal law punishes bad intentions and bad acts, not traffic accidents.”
In a country where the national highway system was designed for the automobile, it’s unsurprising that the legal system also prioritizes the car. Still, the number of Americans who commute by bicycle jumped by 64 percent — to 765,703 — between 1990 and 2009, and in many parts of the country cyclists ride on dedicated bike lanes and lock up on publicly subsidized bike racks. But the laws protecting them lag behind. In most states, for instance, the only law explicitly addressing bike safety is a safe passing law requiring drivers to give cyclists a cushion of anywhere from two to four feet. In only three states is it a felony offense to maim or fatally injure a biker or pedestrian if you are behind the wheel of a car. And in nearly every state, getting police or the courts to prosecute a negligent driver for harming a cyclist is a serious challenge, attorneys and cycling advocates say.
By all indicators, New York’s low prosecution rate is not an anomaly, but rather a reflection of national patterns. Yet there is no sure way to know. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration keeps track of cyclists killed by motorists — 726 in 2012 — there’s no corollary database of how motorists were charged, if at all. For state governments, there are no guarantees that transportation officials are in touch with law enforcement officials who track court cases.
“Many states do not aggregate citation statistics in a manner that makes it easy to understand how laws protecting cyclists, such as three-foot laws, are being enforced,” says Ken McLeod, a legal specialist with the League of American Bicyclists.
The absence of data, compounded with the patchwork of local laws and varying understandings of cyclist rights across the country, means few solid protections for the Jan Morgans of the world. A fine of $100 is the penalty for a first-time offense of the three-foot rule in Mississippi, even if the offense endangered a life. For a third offense, a $2,500 charge is levied along with seven days in the county lockup if, that is, the police and courts decide the charge is worth the time. Even with the law, however, there is no state database keeping track of three-foot violations and subsequent enforcement.
“What happened to Jan is not an accident,” says Peter Wilborn, a trial lawyer and founder of Bike Law, a South Carolina-based firm that represents cyclists in court. “This is what happens when drivers are lawless.”
“Generally, our lawmakers, our judges, our officers tend to just think that car accidents happen — they’re the inevitable product of living in a modern society with cars and trucks,” says Juan Martinez, general counsel at Transportation Alternatives, a New York-based non-profit that advocates for better road safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
Martinez argues that traffic accidents are entirely preventable, if only the causes of them were actively enforced. The New York City Police Department, for example, issued more than 96,000 citations to drivers in 2012 for excessive window tinting, which wasn’t an influence in any fatal or injurious crashes. By comparison, according to a October 2013 Transportation Alternatives report, the NYPD issued fewer than 12 summonses a month in 2012 to drivers who failed to yield, one of the leading causes of injurious crashes in New York.
“I can’t walk into a courtroom and expect twelve jurors to be sympathetic to a cyclist. The first thing that goes through their mind is: What did the cyclist do wrong?”
[B' Spokes: Combonded with some think (not artticulated) the law is, where ever a cyclists was if they could have been somewhere else out of the way then the cyclists is at fault.]