Motorcycle group opposes vulnerable user bill

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.

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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.

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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!


About Schlabowske, Former Exec. Dir.

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office in 2003. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

9 thoughts on “Motorcycle group opposes vulnerable user bill

  1. Funny how ABATE in Wisconsin is so confrontational in their name – in Indiana ABATE stands for American Bikers Aimed Toward Education.

    ABATE always strongly opposes any laws that in anyway differentiate motorcyclists from other motorists (except for when it comes to using safety equipment…), so this doesn’t surprise me. What is surprising is that they ignored repeated opportunities to provide input on the Vulnerable Users bill over the last few years, and are now taking this stand. Perhaps they’ve had one too many helmet-less clunks on the head.

    Anyway, consider my officials contacted.

  2. While ABATE’s “super citizen” idea is clearly rhetoric, I kind of agree that what you’re operating on the road shouldn’t matter when you get mowed down by another road user. Don’t take this to mean that I don’t think there should be stiffer penalties if somebody is killed by a negligent driver, I certainly do – it just shouldn’t matter what you’re riding/driving. Simply make the penalties much higher if you kill ANYBODY with your vehicle.

  3. So it would appear that a workable option would be much along the line of what HipToday says … institute more severe penalties for killing anyone – bicyclist, motorcyclist, another motorist, a pedestrian, a kid playing on the sidewalk, whatever – with a motor vehicle.  However, remember that we are dealing with a legislature led by Reichsführer Scott Walker and his cronies, and something like this would fall well down their list of priorities – which seems to be to do nothing for anyone without the approval of their campaign-money-spewing big business overlords.

  4. Mine went something like this if anyone wants to use…

    Dear Representative Berceau,

    I support LRB 1701/3, the Vulnerable Users Bill and I encourage you to sign on as a co-sponsor. As someone who has had close calls, and I feel at times it is because of the driver’s attitude or their texting and driving multi-tasking, I would like to know there will be some justice if I am taken out. I get absolutely infuriated when I hear of another person walking or on a bike getting killed because someone “fell asleep” at 9:30 in the morning on a sunny day and drifted. All we are asking is that people be held responsible when they get behind the wheel and if you kill someone you don’t just get a ticket for crossing the center line or failure to yield. Please Support the vulnerable user law.
    Thank you.


  5. Hip today has gotten it correct. This law that you are looking to get passed is discriminatory by focusing on a select group of users. I get mad when I look at articles in the papers on court cases in the paper or what I hear on TV and the lack of sentencing in some of these cases. The laws are there whether it is poor police investigations strong defense lawyers or weak judges a lot of people get away with “murder”.If you create a special class of roadway user you also open yourself up to possible special laws to protect yourself. Are you ready for those laws such as hi visibility clothing helmets lighting and others. Also might be the police starting to use the laws on the books such as single file only, complete stops at signs, stay off the sidewalks and others that are not enforced as much as they should be.
    Yes we need to address the punishments for all crashes. Do you really want your mother father or other loved one thrown in jail for injuring or worse yet killing a vulnerable user yet if they kill someone in another auto they get off easily? You have an emotional argument for this law.
    We have good laws on our books that are not being enforced like ACT 173 that protects all users of the road. Lets use and endorse these laws before creating more.

  6. HipToday is on the right track.

    ABATE of Wisconsin’s opposition on this bill stems from EQUALITY for all roadway users. We did meet with the Legislature and tried to get this bill to include all roadway users and they chose not to go that route.

    What makes the injury of one person any more of tragedy than the injury of another simply because of their means of conveyance? If we are going to enhance the penalties for injuring or killing someone on our roadways, and we believe we should, the penalties should be increased for all violations, not just a select few, and for all injured or killed persons regardless of their means of conveyance.

    If this bill were worded that way, ABATE would be much more inclined to be supportive of it. The drivers in this country have gotten away with murder and mayhem for far too long. If this bill were to include all roadway users the penalties would still be enhanced more often for the vulnerable user group just because of their vulnerability on the road, but that should not give bad drivers a free pass for injuring or killing another user outside of the vulnerable group by their actions.

    Enhanced penalties for Right of Way violations against Bicycles, Motorcycles and Pedestrians were put into place in 2006 ACT 466. When we worked on ACT 466, we went to the BFW for support and they disagreed on some points, mainly regarding the severity on the penalties and they chose not to work with us. In 2012 ACT 173, we clarified the way the penalties are to be enforced. We also want to add additional offenses to the Right of Way violation list, but have been unsuccessful so far. Running a stoplight is NOT a Right of Way violation, but running a stop sign IS! – That needs to be corrected, among other offenses. We continue to work on penalizing those that do not pay attention while driving, injuring and killing us all due to their negligence.

    As the bill is written, we will continue to strongly oppose it.

    I would encourage the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin to contact our Legislative Director Dave Dwyer to work out our differences on this bill so we can achieve our common goals. Working with the Legislature to achieve these goals is what ABATE of Wisconsin does and we do it well. With support from both of our organizations, there is a much better chance of getting a bill that we can both agree on to pass.

    Paul Vita
    ABATE of Wisconsin
    Board of Directors

    • Paul,

      Thanks for clarifying ABATE’s objections to the bill. We clearly agree that the murder and mayhem on our roads needs to stop. We also agree that the lives of all road users are equally as valuable. Our bill includes pretty much everyone who is at greater risk in a crash: pedestrian, bicyclist, moped, motor bicyclist, animal drawn vehicle, farm tractor, farm truck tractor, farm trailer or implement of husbandry, in line skates, horse rider, a play vehicle, law enforcement traffic officer, fire fighter, emergency medical technician, person rendering medical or emergency assistance. Note that as in VU laws in other state, we had included motorcycles until you asked to be removed. I guess where we disagree is that these road users are more vulnerable than others.

      We at the Wisconsin Bike Fed believe that those road users not buckled into their vehicles and surrounded by steel safety beams and air bags are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in when they are involved in a crash with a motor vehicle. An inattentive driver who looks down to change a radio station and as a result hits another car while traveling 35 mph is unlikely to cause more than property damage. But if that inattentive driver hits a person walking in a crosswalk, riding a bicycle, a law enforcement officer assisting someone pulled over, or any of the other road users listed in this legislation, that same act of simple negligence might result in the death or serious injury for the victim.

      We have heard time and time again from DAs, that our current laws are written so they cannot seek higher punishments for crashes caused by acts of simple negligence behind the wheel, even if the victim of the crash dies. Our vulnerable user legislation seeks to give DAs another tool they can use in those cases. We believe our laws should include the expectation that people take greater care when driving motor vehicles near people walking, riding bicycles, and the other groups listed in our bill, which, as I mentioned, originally included people on motorcycles.

      I understand your concern that being defined as more vulnerable might result in mandatory helmet laws, hi-vis clothing, etc. While the Bike Fed, we certainly remind people of the safety benefits of wearing a helmet if you are involved in a crash, we would also oppose a mandatory helmet law. We are in agreement there, but disagree that this legislation is a step in that direction.

      Since I was not employed at the Bike Fed when you worked to get Act 466 passed, I cannot speak to my organization’s lack of support. I can say that I see that as good legislation and something that we support now.

      I sincerely appreciate ABATE’s offer to discuss this legislation further. We tried to work with your organization many times over the last two years while we drafted this legislation. When ABATE did finally give us feedback in April, we modified our legislation as you requested. Given our cooperation, we were quite surprised by your continued opposition.

      Be that as it is, I am happy at your renewed interest in cooperation. I have already shared that offer with our legislative staff and our lobbyists. We will also discuss your offer with the bill sponsors, Sen. Olsen and Rep. Bies.

      Dave Schlabowske
      Interim Executive Director
      Wisconsin Bike Fed

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