Michigan House OKs new penalties for drivers who hit bicyclists, runners | Bridge Michigan

3 min read
bikes%20shutterstock

The effort was inspired in part by a June 2016 crash in Kalamazoo County that killed five bicyclists, injured four more and already prompted a 2018 law that requires drivers to keep a three-foot distance from cyclists. 

The driver who hit that group, Charles Pickett Jr., was sentenced to decades in prison for murder . But Rep. Julie Rogers, a Kalamazoo Democrat and the legislation’s primary sponsor, contends that many other bicyclists and pedestrians who are hit by vehicles don’t see the same level of justice. 

“Rehabbing through physical pain is challenging enough,” Rogers said. “Equally devastating is when the driver of the vehicle involved in their crash is not held accountable.” 

Related:

Current law makes hitting a person operating an “implement of husbandry” — or farming equipment — a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $7,500 or both. 

The new bills, which passed the House in 79-29 and 78-30 votes, would create a somewhat smaller penalty for hitting and killing a person in a “vulnerable transportation device,” defined as something a person or their property can be transported in via the highway or street. 

If found guilty of seriously injuring non-drivers using the road, a driver could receive up to 10 years in prison, a maximum fine of $7,500, or both.

Separate bills pending in the Senate, which must pass in order for the House bills to take effect, define who constitutes a vulnerable roadway user, a term which includes bicyclists, wheelchair users, horse drawn buggies and more.

The package also creates an additional felony punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 fine for a moving violation that causes serious injury to any vulnerable roadway users, including those driving farming equipment. 

Matt Penniman, communications and advocacy director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists, said the legislation is “an important part of a culture change that will one day end road deaths in Michigan.”

U.S. drivers killed an estimated 3,373 pedestrians between January and June in 2023, according to projections from the Governors Highway Safety Association, which oversees state highway and safety offices and their administration of federal funding for highway safety programs.

That was a slight drop from 2022, which saw drivers kill 3,526 pedestrians over the same time frame, but was still a 422-person increase over 2019.

“I am a runner and a cyclist myself, and I know residents in my county who have sustained injuries from being hit by vehicles,” Rogers said, adding that she’s also rehabilitated dozens of individuals who’d been hit by a vehicle while walking, running or biking. 

“They’ve often been re-traumatized when they attempt to engage in the judicial process because there is a lack of strong laws on the books in Michigan regarding vulnerable roadway users,” she said.

Rep. Bill G. Schuette, a Midland Republican and another sponsor on the package, is a runner and said he’s had some “close calls” on the road. Increasing awareness by increasing penalties for injuring those most at risk on Michigan roadways is a “good step to take,” he said. 

Not all are in favor of the change. 

Read the full story

You May Also Like

More From Author