Make penalties stiffer for those who hit bicyclists
- Hal Ballard
- The Times - Opinion
Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. This is an open letter Hal Ballard wrote to a number of Washington County legislators and officials. Ballard is the chairman of the Washington County Bicycle Transportation
I am writing to express my concern with regard to the lack of significant sanctions involving motor vehicle accidents, which result in death. Since May 29, as you are probably aware, five people have been killed while riding 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 S.W. 185th. 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 bicyclists traveling dangerously in the roadway. These folks were riding where the laws and common sense dictate they should be.
Just 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. Not much for five lives.
As a representative for Washington County, I'm certain you're aware of these facts, and I'm writing to each representative and senator for the county to ask any and all of you to help us 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 throughout 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.
We thank you for your dedicated service and your prompt response to this matter.