This is the second installment in a monthlong series. To read the rest of the series, visit thestranger.com/news.
What do authorities do to a careless motorist—who isn't drunk, but definitely isn't sharing the road either—who mows down a cyclist, killing him or her?
"You kill somebody, you walk away," says David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, describing Washington's lax vehicular-homicide penalties. He says current laws do a poor job of outlining punishments for harming "vulnerable users of a public way" (that is, people not encased in tons of steel, such as cyclists and pedestrians).
Hiller and other cycling advocates have long wished that motorists who carelessly kill cyclists and pedestrians couldn't get off with the $250 traffic citation prescribed by current law. "I'd love to hang these people up by their toenails at the edge of town and paint 'killer' across their chest and let them hang there until the buzzards peck their eyes out," Hiller says.
A proposal in the state legislature, Senate Bill 5838, is hardly that harsh. But it would significantly ratchet up penalties for "negligent driving in the second degree." If the measure passes, a driver who causes death or substantial bodily harm to a vulnerable roadway user—a cyclist, a wheelchair user, a pedestrian, a scooter driver, a Rollerblader, even someone riding a horse—would be required to complete a traffic-safety course and do 200 hours of community service, and would face a $5,000 fine and a suspended license if they don't comply.
Sponsored by senators Ken Jacobsen (D-46), Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36), Joe McDermott (D-34), and Ed Murray (D-43), the bill will need the support of Seattle's entire legislative delegation. After all, the city they represent is among the most bicycle-reliant parts of the state. The bill will also need lobbying support from Mayor "Mike Bikes" McGinn and from cycling city council president Richard Conlin.
Among the arguments they can make to rural legislators who don't care about cyclists and other urban roadkill: This bill protects people on the road operating "a farm tractor or implement of husbandry," too.