Last week, I read an Above the Law post that really got my blood boiling. A North Carolina man was sentenced to just 120 days in prison after he shot a bicyclist in the head during a roadside confrontation — in front of the rider’s three-year-old daughter.
The ATL blog referred readers to the full Alt Transport article, aptly titled, “Want to Get Away With Murder? Just Run Over A Bicyclist.” Using the North Carolina case, along with a couple unaddressed hit-and-runs, to illustrate his point, the author argued for nationwide laws to command justice for cyclists and other “vulnerable road users” who are injured or killed by motorists.
Fast forward to one week later: A Howard County man who hit and killed a teenage boy last August pled guilty Tuesday to driving while impaired during the incident. Police said he had heroin in his pocket and failed a field sobriety test after he struck the cyclist. The punishment for taking a child from his family? Six months in the clink.
I am sick to death of motorists getting a slap on the wrist when they significantly and fundamentally alter the lives of cyclists — and the lives of their surviving family members. In the Howard County case, their son’s death caused both parents to lose their jobs, leading to foreclosure and, for the mother, a personal bankruptcy filing, according to The Baltimore Sun.
It’s not as if this sort of tragedy is an anomaly. In fact, accidents involving bicycles have become so commonplace that one D.C. website reports the number of cyclists struck each week in the district. There were six — reported — just last week. Anecdotally, having had the conversation with bike commuters in various cities, I have not personally spoken to anyone who rides more than recreationally and has not been hit or at least clipped by a vehicle.
I don’t mean to vilify all drivers. Yes, there are plenty of motorists out there who give cyclists a wide berth on the road, just like there are plenty of bike riders who wait at every stop light and plenty of pedestrians who never jaywalk. But the next time you’re barreling down the street in a two-ton piece of metal and come upon a cyclist, remember that you’re sharing the road with someone who, unlike you, doesn’t have the added protection of a steel exoskeleton.