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Boost penalties for causing bike accidents

As seen in last week's News-Times, in yet another incident between a motorist and bicyclist, the bicyclist lost.

Kevin Vandyke lost because, although he lives to tell the tale, this is yet another example of the motoring public's lack of understanding or education with regard to where and when bikes are allowed.

Since May 29, five people have been killed while riding bicycles on the streets and roads of Washington County.

Sheryl and Darrel Mc Daniels, 61 and 65 respectively, were riding on the shoulder of Highway 47 near Forest Grove. The driver of the 2002 Saab 'drifted over the fog line' straight into the couple. On Sept. 8, a grand jury 'declined to indict' the driver.

'Most likely it was momentary inattention,' said Chris Quinn, the senior deputy district attorney handling the case. Sheryl and Darrel are dead.

Eric Lyager, 56, was killed after being struck by a 2001 Pontiac after he apparently fell off his bicycle while riding on Southwest 185th Avenue. No charges have been filed and it is unknown what caused him to lose control and fall off his bike. Eric is dead.

The fourth was killed Sept. 1 while riding in a bike lane in Beaverton. The driver 'had the sun' in his eyes, couldn't see, but took off anyway, striking and killing Mike Wilberding, 58. He was cited for 'failure to yield to a bicyclist in a bike lane.' Mike is dead.

Most recently, a woman driving a Ford Expedition SUV killed Michael Kalan, 35, in a similar manner. She too had the 'sun in her eyes and did not see the cyclist.' No charges have been filed and because there was nothing criminal in the act, none probably will. Michael is dead.

These weren't kids darting out from driveways or wrong-way riders, or cyclists traveling dangerously in the roadway. These folks were riding where the laws and common sense dictate they should be.

On a recent Wednesday night a boy was hit while riding his bike through a crosswalk. The driver didn't see him. The word of caution by police? 'Slow down when driving in the rain as your stopping distance increases.'

Therein lies the gist of the problem. There are few sanctions when traffic collisions cause a death. The driver who was cited in the Mike Wilberding case faces a $242 fine. Five deaths and that's the total fine.

I'm writing to each state representative and senator for the county to ask them to help craft and sponsor a bill that would increase the penalty for killing another human being with a motor vehicle whether the victim was afoot, in the saddle, or behind the wheel.

Currently, Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 809 has numerous provisions for suspending or revoking licenses for serious offenses such as manslaughter, assault, or recklessly endangering with a motor vehicle.

There is nothing, however for someone who proceeds through an intersection, for example, realizing they can't see, yet going anyway. The woman who struck Michael had three children in the car. What if she couldn't see a semi-tractor trailer? Could that have been four dead?

The charge in the Beaverton case is only a violation and the law, as written, is irrelevant to it. Yet Mike Wilberding is still dead, and the driver still faces a maximum $242 fine.

I realize this won't be easy or popular, the insurance companies and automobile associations will probably rail against it, but if we also include language that covers pedestrian or bicyclist caused deaths (it has happened), that argument would be weakened.

As chairman of the Washington County Bicycle Transportation Coalition, whose mission is 'to promote bicycle transportation, protect bicyclists' rights and improve bicycling conditions in Washington County, Oregon through education and advocacy,' we're taking a lead with doing something about the current law.

We're being barraged with questions tinged with anger, fear and confusion and a call to action, and this is how we're beginning.

Hal Ballard is the chairman of the Washington County Bicycle Transportation Coalition. A version of this letter was recently sent to local officials.