A Maryland motorist, Kathy May Lee, who killed a bicyclist, has been fined $287.50, plus $25.50 in court fees. This is an amount that the average motorist could probably budget for; you wouldn’t want to kill a bicyclist every day, certainly, but for an annual, or even monthly, cost of operating your vehicle, it’s certainly reasonable. I’m sure it can’t be much more than a Hummer driver spends on fuel in a month.
The motorist had failed to clean her windshield (she “had cleared a portion of the left windshield of morning dew but left the fogged up right side to be cleared by the car’s heater”), and was fumbling for a cigarette lighter, when she struck the bicyclist from behind. In her defense, the prosecutor noted that “there were no indications that Lee was sending a text message or otherwise using a cell phone when the collision occurred”–apparently the fact that she wasn’t engaged in one of the current bugaboos of distracted driving is a mitigating circumstance.
Also “mitigating” the incident was the fact the bicyclist was not riding all the way over on the right side of the road. “[A] bicyclist is required to ride on a roadway’s shoulder if it’s usable or as close to the edge of the roadway as possible,” so apparently all bets are off if you try to use more of the lane than the strip by the curb.
There are many things that are obscene about this:
- The punishment hardly rises to the level of the offense; it’s not much more than a parking ticket. At the very least, this should have resulted in the revocation of the driver’s license; this certainly looks more like “vehicular manslaughter” than “distracted driving” to me.
- There are many good reasons that a cyclist would not be riding in the gutter: road conditions (I don’t know about Maryland, but in Minnesota the gutter is where dangerous debris piles up), lawful maneuvers (such as positioning for a left turn), or avoiding a hazard (parked cars’ doors can be as deadly as moving cars). Being in the middle of the road is a perfectly valid place for a bicycle.
- Once again, the sacred bull has been given a pass. Motorists need to understand that they are operating a potential deadly device every time they get behind the wheel; particularly as our roads become increasingly crowded, motorists must be responsible: attentiveness should not be the sole reserve of cyclists and pedestrians. The onus should fall on the person who could most easily kill someone in a collision.
It’s nice that “distracted driving” has gained some attention lately, with a focus on texting and cell phone usage; but those are such incredibly obvious derelictions that there should be no debate about them. On my bicycle commute through St. Paul, I’ve seen any number of motorists fumbling for things in the cab, shaving or applying makeup, eating and drinking with both hands, even taking advantage of a stop light to do a little knitting. None of these behaviors should be acceptable: when you’re driving, you’re driving, and that’s your primary responsibility. Anything you do (or fail to do: winter in Minnesota brings out a lot of cars with a tiny porthole scraped in their icy windshields) that distracts you from that responsibility should not be tolerated.