Related: Why Wisconsin needs a vulnerable user law
Related: Killers get probation, but victims’ families want justice
The state’s influential motorcycle lobby group is asking their members to oppose the vulnerable users legislation (LRB 173/2) we have been working on with Senator Olsen (R) and Representative Bies (R). We tried to work with A.B.A.T.E. (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) on this legislation for the last 18 months, and even agreed to remove mention of motorcycles from this bill at their request, but they still oppose any legislation that recognizes that some road users are more vulnerable in a crash. It is vitally important that you contact your elected official to tell them you support LRB 1701/3, the Vulnerable Users Bill and encourage them to sign on as co-sponsors.
Contrary to what A.B.A.T.E. argues, the bill does not seek to create an “upper class of citizen,” it seeks to fix the gap in our current laws and encourage people to take greater care when driving motor vehicles near more vulnerable users of the road, such as people walking and bicycling. We have heard too often from the family members of people killed as a result of inattentive driving and from the District Attorneys assigned to the cases that our current laws make it extremely difficult to charge people with anything other than a simple traffic violation.
The Bike Fed first began pushing for this legislation back in 2011, after an 18-year-old man lost control of his car while driving on Nicholson Road in Oak Creek, crossed the centerline and killed 56-year-old Sam Ferrito while Sam was riding his bicycle. The consequences for killing this innocent man were tickets for two moving violations: reckless driving and crossing the centerline.
I talked to Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney Greg Huebner to try to gain a better understanding of the reasoning behind his decision not to prosecute the driver for a more serious crime such as homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
“It is a terrible tragedy, and that was my first inclination,” Huebner began, “but I just did not believe I had the evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. And I spent a lot of time with this case. I even ran it past a number of other attorneys and they all agreed with my decision. If he had been going 20 over or something, it would have been a whole different ballgame.”
The way our current laws were written, he could not seek greater penalties in either case.
We have heard similar explanations in other cases, including Jeff Littman and Bob Gunderson, both well-known members of Wisconsin’s cycling community. The driver who hit and killed Littman in October of 2010 was ticketed for driving too fast for conditions and illegal passing. His fines totaled $614. The driver who killed Gunderson in 2012 was cited for failure to keep his vehicle under control and paid a fine of $126. In both those cases, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimmel was sympathetic, but argued the way our current laws were written, he could not seek greater penalties in either case.
The legislation drafted by Sen. Olsen and Rep. Beis does not seek to create any special class of citizen, it only seeks to fix this gap in our current laws and put the scales of justice back in balance.
The text below is the action alert sent out by A.B.A.T.E:
Against our wishes Wisconsin State Senator Olson and Representative Bies are circulating a bill, LRB 1701/2, to create penalty enhancements for traffic violations that result in bodily harm, great bodily harm, or death (collectively “harm”) to vulnerable highway users. This bill creates a new class of citizen in Wisconsin that, according to the authors of this bill are of a much higher standing and worth than the other citizens of Wisconsin and being involved in a traffic accident with one of these “upper class citizens” should require the guilty party to pay a more substantial fine, and in some cases go to jail or prison. As you might guess this bill was introduced at the request of the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.
The bill defines “vulnerable highway user” as any of the following: 1) a pedestrian; 2) a bicyclist; 3) an operator of a moped or motor bicycle; 4) an operator of, or passenger on, an animal drawn vehicle, farm tractor, farm truck tractor, farm trailer, or implement of husbandry; 5) a person riding upon inline skates, a horse, or a play vehicle; 6) a law enforcement officer, traffic officer, fire fighter, or emergency medical technician, while performing his or her official duties; or 7) a person who is rendering medical or emergency assistance to another person. For most traffic violations, the bill doubles the applicable forfeiture or fine if the violation results in harm to a vulnerable highway user, and this doubling is in addition to any other applicable penalty enhancement, such as the doubling for certain traffic violations committed in highway maintenance or construction areas or in utility work areas.
Also for specific violations, the bill makes the offense a Class B misdemeanor if the violation results in great bodily harm to a vulnerable highway user or a Class A misdemeanor if the violation results in death to a vulnerable highway user. A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 90 days or both. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 9 months or both.
Please contact your State Senator and Assemblyperson and ask that they not sign on as a cosponsor to the bill and not support this bill in any votes.
Our main objection is the creation of a new class of “super citizen” who is more important than the rest of the citizens of Wisconsin. ABATE of Wisconsin OPPOSES this bill. Take Action Immediately!