“Study after study reveals that more people would be willing to make more trips by bike or on foot if they felt they could do so without taking their lives in their hands.” That comment at a legislative hearing by Kelly Kennedy, Executive Director of Bike Walk Connecticut, highlights the reason behind proposed legislation that would “help hold accountable careless drives who injure or kill non-motorized users of the road.”
Dubbed the “don’t hit me” bill, it is back for a fifth consecutive year at the State Capitol, endorsed by an array of 23 organizations. In each of the past two years, it passed the Senate but was not considered by the House. It recognizes that “vulnerable road users,” such as pedestrians, bicyclists, first responders, and highway workers need additional legal protections, and provides enhanced penalties for careless driving resulting in injury or death of a vulnerable road user.
The "Vulnerable User" bill:
- Provides for a fine of up to $1,000 for injuring or killing a vulnerable user due to careless driving; and
- Defines a vulnerable user as a pedestrian; cyclist; animal rider or driver; highway worker; farm tractor driver; user of a skateboard, roller or inline skates; user of a wheelchair or motorized chair; or blind person and his or her service animal.
The statistics behind the effort are clear:
- Careless drivers injure hundreds of people every year in Connecticut--130 pedestrians and cyclists were killed between 2010 and 2012 and approximately 1,400 pedestrians and cyclists are injured every year, according to Bike Walk Connecticut. Between 2006 and 2012, there were more than 10,000 deaths or injuries.
- The League of American Bicyclists' top recommendation for Connecticut in its Bike Friendly State Report Card calls for Connecticut to "Adopt a vulnerable road user law that increases penalties for a motorist that injures or kills a bicyclist or pedestrian." (CT's Bike Friendly State ranking was #18 in 2013.)
Nora Duncan, State Director of the Connecticut AARP, testified in support of the bill, noting that “an older pedestrian is 61 percent more likely to die from a crash than a younger pedestrian.” The bill, she said, “could improve pedestrian safety by deterring negligent behavior that puts vulnerable uses at risk of injury or death.” In a survey, 47 percent of people over age 50 in Connecticut said they felt they could not safely cross main roads close to their home.
The proposal was also supported by the State Department of Transportation, which suggested that the definition “be all encompassing to include all users such as persons on a legal non-motorized device” such as scooters and skateboards. Transit for Connecticut, a statewide coalition of 33 business, social service, environmental, planning and civic organizations advocating the benefits of mass transit, supported a vulnerable user law indicating that “with emphasis on energy conversation and healthy lifestyles, the number of walkers and bicyclists is growing. These residents, along with residents living in close proximity to bus stops and transit services need proper access if they want to use public transit.”
Kirsten Bechtel of the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, called for individuals who commit an infraction under the proposed law to “attend driver retraining and perform community service.” In written testimony, she said that “vulnerable user laws in Oregon, Washington and Delaware include these requirements to ensure that drivers are held accountable and operate their vehicles safely in the future.” Others, including the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, supported that idea.
Clinton resident Debbie Lundgren, in an email to the Transportation Committee, said succinctly, “pass the Vulnerable User Bill this year. We have waited long enough!”
The Committee is expected to consider SB 336 later this month. If approved there, it would go on to the Senate for consideration. A road well traveled.