02

Blog

Portland Bicycle Accident Attorney on Vulnerable Road User Laws

Out Of Tragedy, Halting Steps Towards Protecting Vulnerable Users

Gerald Apple was returning home from a ride. One left turn, and he would be in his driveway. But as he began turning, a driver coming up behind him passed Gerald on the left, hit Gerald, and knocked him into a drainage ditch in front of his home. Miraculously, Gerald wasn’t killed, but he suffered a severe brain injury. He lingered for months, but in February of this year, Gerald finally passed.

In her article “Personalizing the Consequences of Bicycle Crashes- The Gerald Apple Story,” Ann Groninger of Bike Law North Carolina recently recounted the heartrending story of how Gerald’s wheelchair-bound wife battled with unsympathetic care providers and an insurance company that refused to pay for Gerald’s health care, while her husband struggled to stay alive. Would Gerald still be with us today, if he had received the care he needed, instead of the cold shoulder? One can only wonder. But one thing is certain—had Gerald’s insurance covered the care he needed, his wife wouldn’t be faced with hundreds of thousands in unpaid medical bills today.

Gerald’s story caught my attention as an Oregon bicycle accident lawyer, because the circumstances of his collision were so similar to a crash that happened here in Oregon in 2007. It was June 9th, a Saturday. Timothy O’Donnell, 66, was on a ride with four other cyclists from the Portland Velo Cycling Club. They were about to make a left turn, with O’Donnell in the lead. O’Donnell had signaled ad begun his turn, when he was struck by a car that attempted to pass him on the left. O’Donnell died at the scene.

The Portland cycling community’s grief soon turned to outrage, when we learned that the driver who killed O’Donnell—Jennifer Knight, then 26—had had her Oregon Driver’s License suspended for failure to appear on a ticket for driving without insurance. With her Oregon license suspended, Knight then moved to Idaho to get an Idaho license. And then, just 6 days before she crashed into O’Donnell, she caused a collision in Idaho by failing to yield to another vehicle, and was cited by investigators for inattentiveness. The day she crashed into O’Donnell, Knight, now returned to Oregon, was driving on a still-suspended Oregon license.

And yet despite the circumstances, the driver was facing a maximum fine of $1,142. The prosecutors charged her with driving with a suspended license, careless driving, and passing in a no passing zone. Knight pleaded “no contest” to the charges, and mailed in her fine in monthly installments, all without ever having appeared before a judge. But for taking O’Donnell’s life, there would be no charges filed. Knight wouldn’t pay one penny, and wouldn’t serve one minute in jail, for carelessly taking O’Donnell’s life. Yet another dangerous driver had escaped appropriate charges and penalties for taking a human life.

But if there was a silver lining in this cloud, it was what O’Donnell’s untimely passing led to. Bicycle safety legislation had recently been introduced in the Oregon Senate, and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance had been working tirelessly to gather the necessary support for this bill. One more vote was needed to get it through the Senate. With Tim O’Donnell’s passing at the hands of a dangerous driver fresh on everybody’s minds, and with the strong and unceasing lobbying support of Tim’s widow, Mary, the bill gained the necessary support, and went on to become Oregon’s Vulnerable User Law—the first law of its kind in the nation.

Under the then new law, careless drivers who killed or seriously injured a “vulnerable user” (a class of roadway users that includes not only cyclists, but pedestrians, equestrians, and farm vehicle operators) would be subject to completing a traffic safety course, performing between 100 and 200 hours of community service, paying a fine of up to $12,500, and having their license suspended. No longer would drivers who take a life face nothing more than a paltry fine. No longer would a driver be able to mail it in, without even having to go to court and face a judge.

But while Oregon cyclists were glad to have the new law on the books, they also realized its serious limitations. While the law imposes an enhanced fine of up to $12,500, a careless driver can completely avoid the enhanced fine by completing the traffic safety course and community service. So really, what the Vulnerable User law is saying is that a careless driver who seriously injures or kills a vulnerable user must complete a traffic safety course, community service, and must have their license suspended. It’s not a bad law, but it’s not nearly as strong a deterrent to careless driving as it might appear at first glance.

And yet even Oregon’s lukewarm Vulnerable User law is “too tough” for some state legislatures. Recently, legislators in my old home state of Wisconsin passed a thoroughly watered down version of a Vulnerable User law, completely removing the enhanced penalty of $10,000 and a 9-month jail term from the law before they would even vote on it. They apparently didn’t want to crack down too hard on careless drivers who kill.

But then again, neither does the Oregon Legislature. Shortly after Oregon’s Vulnerable User law was passed, bicycle advocates, fully aware of its shortcomings, pushed to get a vehicular homicide bill through the state legislature. The vehicular homicide bill failed in 2009. Today, Oregon remains one of four states with no vehicular homicide law on the books—and that needs to change.

Comments

Michigan bicycle accident, Michigan bicycle accident lawyer, Detroit bicycle accident, Detroit bicycle accident lawyer, Michigan Bike Law Attorney, dash cam video, impeding traffic
Feb 04, 2016

When a Michigan bicyclist got a ticket in 2015 for impeding traffic, he could have simply paid a $200 fine. But he believed the trooper who pulled him over was wrong about the law and hostile to bicyclists’ rights to use Michigan roads. So, he decided to fight. It took two trips to the courthouse, […]

Read More
bicycle accident, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, Colorado bicycle accident, Colorado bicycle accident lawyer, Gunnison bicycle accident, Gunnison bicycle accident lawyer, Brian Weiss
Feb 03, 2016

Friday, June 19, 2015, was a beautiful summer day in Gunnison, Colorado. Dale Thomas, a popular 40-year resident and local artist, decided to head out for a bike ride. He was wearing a helmet and his favorite bike jersey, the one that his wife, Ellen Petrick, had given him for Christmas. It would be the […]

Read More
bicycle accident statistics, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, Tennessee bicycle accident, Tennessee bicycle accident lawyer, Memphis bicycle accident, Memphis bicycle accident lawyer, Amy Benner
Feb 02, 2016

Bike Law recently caught up with Memphis bicycle advocates Kyle Wagenschutz and Tulio Bertorini to discuss biking in their city. Both Kyle and Tulio have made national news for their efforts on behalf of cyclists in Memphis. We came away inspired by the great things they are doing. Tulio and the Memphis Hightailers First, we […]

Read More
bicycle accident statistics, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, Tennessee bicycle accident, Tennessee bicycle accident lawyer, Memphis bicycle accident, Memphis bicycle accident lawyer, Amy Benner
Feb 02, 2016

New bike facilities in Memphis – currently at more than 200 miles of bicycle lanes, bike paths, cycletracks and shared lane markings – are making the streets safer for bikers, says Kyle Wagenschutz, the city’s Bicycle / Pedestrian Program Manager. “We have found that 93 percent of bike crashes in Memphis are occurring on streets where […]

Read More
bicycle accident, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, Idaho bicycle accident, Idaho bicycle accident lawyer, Boise bicycle accident, Boise bicycle accident lawyer, Kurt Holzer, sinkhole, Idaho Stop Law
Jan 27, 2016

I’ve been representing cyclists in Idaho bike accidents for nearly 25 years. Many people are aware of our state statute that is referred to by many as the Idaho Stop Law.  My experience, both on my bike and at my desk, has shown it’s a good law that has worked well. In fact, the law […]

Read More
bicycle accident, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, Illinois bicycle accident, Illinois bicycle accident lawyer, Chicago bicycle accident, chicago bicycle accident lawyer, Brendan Kevenides, sinkhole, bike lane
Jan 26, 2016

Illinois Bike Law attorney Brendan Kevenides made the news last week in his legal fight to block Chicago from calling its bike lanes “recreational property.” Brendan is representing a 35-year-old cyclist who was seriously injured in 2014 when she hit a sinkhole in a bike lane on North Damien Street. The cyclist’s injuries included facial […]

Read More
bicycle accident, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, New York bicycle accident, New York bicycle accident lawyer, Elmira bicycle accident, Elmira bicycle accident lawyer, Jim Reed
Jan 26, 2016

New York Bike Law attorney Jim Reed was recently elected president of the New York Bicycling Coalition, a statewide bike advocacy group. But in a recent interview, the first state Jim mentioned was Maine. The reason? “The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has 5,000 members, and NYBC only has 700 members, even though we are a […]

Read More
Jan 20, 2016

The parents of 23-year-old Canadian bicyclist Iain Gerrard heard the words no parents ever want to hear: “Your son is dead.” On July 14, 2014, the Gerrards learned their son had been killed in Mississippi on a bike tour of the Deep South. Iain’s parents were devastated by the news. Their grief quickly turned to anger […]

Read More
Jan 18, 2016

In a hearing last week in the Circuit Court of Cook County the City of Chicago sought to have all of the bicycle lanes installed throughout the City declared “recreational facilities.”  The effect of this creative legal maneuver would have been to immunize the municipality for injuries to bicyclists caused by the City’s failure to […]

Read More
Jan 15, 2016

Lawyer Patrick Brown, a member of the Bike Law network in Canada, is lobbying for “vulnerable road user” laws in his region, much like the laws adopted by some U.S. states to protect bicyclists and pedestrians. Brown was recently interviewed by thestar.com about the need for stiffer penalties for motorists who kill other road users, […]

Read More
bicycle accident, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, South Carolina bicycle accident, South Carolina bicycle accident lawyer, Columbia bicycle accident, Columbia bicycle accident lawyer, Oklahoma felony charges, distracted motorist allegations
Jan 14, 2016

Justice may finally be here for the family and friends of a bike rider who was killed in 2015 by an Oklahoma driver. Patrick Wanninkhof, 25, was a popular New York City school teacher who took part last summer in a cross-country ride with Bike & Build, a nonprofit group that raises money for affordable […]

Read More
Maine bicycle accident, Maine bicycle accident lawyer, Portland bicycle accident, Portland bicycle accident lawyer, Maine Bike Law Attorney Lauri Boxer-Macomber
Jan 11, 2016

Meet Maine Bike Law Attorney Lauri Boxer-Macomber Lauri Boxer-Macomber is a Maine attorney who has embraced bicycling for decades. Lauri’s law practice is focused on advocating for the rights of bicyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. She is a member of the national Bike Law network. Lauri advocates for racers, commuters, recreational riders, triathletes, new Mainers and […]

Read More
Load More