A funny thing happened to me the other day on the way to the Senate hearing on the vulnerable users legislation, I got hit by a truck. Don’t worry, it was the bicycle equivalent of a fender bender, but still, how ironically coincidental is that? Here is what happened:
Wednesday, around 8 AM, I was riding my trusty old Trek down the newish contraflow bike lane on Main Street near the Capitol Square. I was head up, wearing a helmet, following the rules of the road, when a delivery van started backing up toward me in the bike lane. I grabbed two fists full of brake and yelled at the top of my lungs. Luckily the driver in the truck heard me and also slammed on the brakes, but not in time to avoid hitting my rear wheel and knocking my pannier off my bike.
I yelled a few choice words at the driver. Well, in retrospect I could have chosen my words better had I not been hopped up on fear and adrenaline. The driver was very apologetic, but his first words were telling: “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention!” He went on to aplogize further and ask if I was OK. With his sincerity and an quick inspection that showed no permanent damage to my bike or injury to my person, my blood pressure dropped. I was even able to joke about the incident when I spoke at the hearing.
The incident also offered me a argumentative leverage point Archimedes would have loved. After I told the story to Sen. Jerry Petrowski, (R-Marathon), chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation, I asked “but imagine things were just a little different. Imagine I didn’t yell loud enough, or the driver stopped a half a second later, I might not be here testifying right now. If I had been seriously hurt, or even run over and killed, our current laws would only allow for a charge of failure to yield of inattentive driving. Even if the DA threw the available book at the driver who killed me, the most he would have gotten was a $614 in fines and a handful of points.
Thankfully I live to ride another day, but many have not been so lucky. Take Laurie Landgraf for instance. She wrote a letter to the committee, which Jessica Binder read in her absence. Her husband David was one of two people who had skied every Birkie since it began. An experienced rider as well as a great skier, August 5, 2011, Dave Landgraf, was riding his bicycle southbound on State Highway 27 in Sawyer County. The sun was out and there were no visual obstructions on this stretch of highway. Since Dave was an avid bicyclist, he always wore his helmet, brightly colored jersey, and followed the rules of the road. These precautions offered little protection when a driver who was talking on the phone struck him from behind at 55 mph. What were the consequences for the driver who chose to text and talk on her cell phone while driving? She was issued traffic citations (inattentive driving, not carrying proof of insurance, and hitting a cyclist) and paid fines of $624.
The committee heard far too many similar stories as others from the packed hearing room took their place to testify in favor of the legislation. Still others testified of surviving broken necks and frightening near misses, all with the commonality that the driver who was guilty got off with little more than a fine.
The only opposition came from Dave Dwyer of ABATE of WI (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Actions), the influential motorcycle lobby group. To their credit, Mr. Dwyer said he agreed with the majority of the legislation and the intent. “People have been getting away with murder and mayhem on the roads for too long,” Dwyer said. We have already tried to resolve our differences with ABATE. I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one, but I appreciate their sincerity and their honest desire to make the roads safer for everyone.
Overall the hearing went very well. Sen. Joseph Leibham of the committee expressed some serious concerns about the legislation when his constituent Maja Holcomb, 17, testified. I can’t say enough good things about Maja, who took the day off school to testify about being on the Wednesday Night Worlds group ride in Sheboygan when her friend Troy Tousey was hit and killed in June of 2012. With the limited time of the hearing, Sen. Leibham asked to talk to Maja further about his concerns in the near future. The Bike Fed promised to help Maja answer any questions the Senator has, but she is so well spoken, she really doesn’t need us.
Next step is a hearing before the House Transportation Committee, chaired by Rep. Keith Ripp (R-Lodi). Rep. Ripp is a co-sponsor of the bill, and we thank him for taking this to committee. We will keep you all updated about this important legislation as it moves through the process. Until then, ride safe and drive carefully.