As voters went to the polls yesterday, candidates, propositions, and the direction of the country were no doubt on their minds. Oddly enough, some Maryland voters were also likely thinking about bicycle safety, since one of the state’s candidates for US Senate was struck and killed by an SUV while on her bike earlier this year. The death of Green Party candidate Natasha Pettigrew once again emphasizes the need for stricter regulations enforcing bicycle safety and laws coaxing drivers to be more careful near cyclists.
Pettigrew’s mother is now leading the charge in Maryland to enforce stricter car-bike accident laws. Mother Jones Magazine points out that in Maryland, a driver must be “impaired, grossly negligent, or show intent to cause harm in order to be charged with a crime.” Currently, only nine states carry criminal penalties for bike-car accidents: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, and Utah.
Noticeably absent is California, which had 131 bike fatalities in 2008 alone. A Bicycle Times report earlier this year said this is partially because when bicycle use boomed in the 1970s, the state’s highway system was insufficient to support a bike-to-work population. “Until then, motor vehicle offenses were criminal,” David Hiller of Washington State’s Cascade Bicycle Club told Bicycle Times. But the sheer number of bicycle accident lawsuits overwhelmed the system, so “in exchange for waiving the right to due process, and to unclog the courts, the trade off was those cases would be handled in civil court.”
Fortunately, California lawmakers have announced their intention to boost bicycle safety laws over the next couple years. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for a statewide helmet law for all ages at an August “bike summit.” And LA City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl has suggested implementing a three foot passing law.
An investigation into the driver who struck Pettigrew is still pending. Ideally, her death and other tragic bicycle deaths will eventually lead to safety laws to benefit future cyclists.
Photo credit: StefanRos