I was asked to write about vulnerable user laws this month by a request to FloridaBicycleLaw.com.
To gain some perspective, let’s say you are helping set up the wedding reception for the sister of a friend whose family is wealthy, your friend gives you a bottle of wine and says, “Please carry this to the table over there.” You wade through the chairs and tables, put it down and come back. Then your friend says “Please take this one over, but be extra careful with this one. This is a 1767 bottle of wine bottled by Thomas Jefferson, worth 1.75 million dollars.” How careful are you carrying that bottle? Both bottles have wine, so what’s the difference in consequences carrying the second bottle?
Busy mom is driving errands with a child in a car seat, a cell phone in a Hyundai SUV A motor vehicle (MV). There are bicyclists pedaling on the road. There is also an open cab tractor and, waiting at the pedestrian crossing, a rider on horseback and two roller bladers. In the multi use lane nearby is a handicapped person in a motorized wheelchair also coming to the intersection. At the previous light mom started a text and kept on texting. As she approaches, the intersection, she gets a phone call, it may be her boss, her child starts screaming bloody murder in the back and the light changes yellow to red as she looks in the rearview mirror.…
On the road in front of her is a 1767 bottle of wine bottled by Thomas Jefferson himself.
You know if she rear-ends a car she gets a ticket and her insurance pays. She may or may not injure the occupant, they are surrounded by a steel cocoon. Now, if she hits one of the people not surrounded by a steel cocoon (the bicyclist, etc.), mom gets same deal: ticket and call the insurance company. Though one of those vulnerable road users may get catastrophically hurt, forever impair a significant bodily function, be permanently disfigured, off work for two months and the bike for six months, it’s still only a ticket and a premium hike but, it’s still no skin off her nose.
Here’s the kicker: what if the woman does not have bodily injury coverage to pay for the medical bills, physical injury, lost work, pain, mental anguish loss of enjoyment of life of steel cocoon-less road users. What’s that? No insurance if she hurts someone? Holy Guacamole! What? Yes, here in the land that can’t count votes, the legislature in its finite wisdom, again this year has not made bodily insurance required of those driving the deadly weapons we cyclists know as cars, trucks and motorcycles.
So, where were we? Oh, yeah. Vulnerable user law.
What if … it were like a hate crime? A crime against a specific class of people that were deserving of higher protection because of vulnerability? What if the law recognized that those folks at the intersection were vulnerable and the SUV driver was on notice that hitting one of them would carry repercussions that carried onto her bank account and affect her life as permanently as it affected the vulnerable user’s life? Beyond “feeling awful,” a $185.00 ticket and insurance premium hike she pays over six months. Or what about criminal penalties? Down to the jail, kid off to husband/boyfriend and she has to post bail? Think that possibility might get Florida drivers to stop distractions and pay attention to vulnerable users on the road?
That’s what vulnerable user laws do. It is a recognition that road users who don’t have steel cocoons around them are vulnerable. In Europe they have these. Ah, yes. Europe. Cycling heaven. But wait … Oregon, Illinois, Delaware, Washington State, and New York have these statutes. Whoa. Here in the states? Are there legislatures and governors who really care? Wow. Wait a minute … Florida has a legislature and a governor. Can you think of a state which needs it more than Florida? So, how do we get the message to the SUV mom and the criminals that come at us head on in our lane because we are using the roads? Why not make hitting a vulnerable user have direct financial penalties of say $15,000 that is due to the State of Florida and a suspension of drivers license for one year or even a criminal penalty of six months in jail?
The League of American Bicyclists has a model law posted on its website. This would work in Florida.
So you dear reader, print a copy of the law. Write a letter to your representative, ask him or her for an appointment time when you can come in and talk to him or her. Go meet with him or her, take the law with you and ask him or her to submit this filed in the Senate or House. The bills have to be filed in Tallahassee by August 31, 2013 for next year’s session. Do it. It’s time for Florida to take steps to bring home to motorists a threat of real and personal financial or criminal consequence for hitting us bicyclists.