A funny thing happened on the way to the Senate Hearing…

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.

Me and Senator Petrowski just after testimony ended. Photo by Darryl Jordan

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.

Greg Ferguson, Madison area racer, commuter and citizen advocate, eloquently answers questions from committee members. Photo by Darryl Jordan

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.

Read more:
Killers get probation, but victims’ families want justice
Motorcycle group opposes vulnerable user bill
Public Hearings set for Vulnerable Users Bill

11 thoughts on “A funny thing happened on the way to the Senate Hearing…

  1. Lets do some thinking here. Delivery trucks usually go by looking behind them from the side mirrors. You may of been in a blind spot where you couldn’t be seen, as the view would’t of been much.
    This is my number one issue, bicycle riders need to pay attention to there surroundings. Safety starts with you first. Motorists can’t always see you, remember that, especially larger vehicles.
    It makes me cringe that this guy would of been at fault, this law will absolutley encourage arrogance. At that point hopefully it will get rolled back. Glad everyone was ok in the end. Again, watch out for yourselves! Its worked for me while walking, or bicycling, which I haven’t done in a long time. I never got close to being hit. Of course I never rode on small narrow roads, or busy roads, or tried to be a nuisance. Respect the roads, respect motor vehicles as they are bigger and take more time to slow down, many people forget about that. Don’t think because you have a right to be there, you have priority. It’s too bad most motorists don’t know what is going to be coming down on them with this nasty law. If this eventually passes, I’m sure we will see some going up the highway right in the lane of travel, expecting they have all the rights, and motor vehicles don’t belong there. The citations for impeding traffic should be raised for bicyclists too. Just too many concerns bug me about this law. What will be done to keep the bad bicyclists in line? This law will make some think there invincible, and pull some thing stupid, and some poor sucker in a motor vehicle will end up in jail, because of some arrogant cyclist. What will you do to address that? Riding at night too, I often see cyclists with no lights on. Aren’t they suupose to follow motor vehicle laws? What about staying where there is only bicycle lanes. I recommend banning bicycles on highways that don’t have any room for bicycles. Motorists don’t want to be responsible for bicyclists stupidity, when they take a spill or something on a highway. Bicyclists should be required to take reasonable common sense steps to stay safe.

    • Why wouldn’t the driver of a vehicle be held responsible for being able to see where they are going? Why should a cyclist be responsible for not riding in a truck’s blind spot? Shouldn’t the responsibility be on the truck and it’s operator to not have blind spots? My understanding is that the existence of this type of blind spot on a delivery truck is illegal in many European countries. Manufacturers must create mirrors or other devices that eliminate such blind spots so that the truck and driver are not putting other road users in danger.

    • And a bit more thinking: any vehicle operator knows they have blind spots, and the Wisconsin Motorists Handbook clearly states that drivers are obligated to check those blind spots and anticipate potential hazards by stopping twice (once for the sidewalk/bike path, once for the roadway) and looking before exiting a driveway. Every licensed driver, in signing their operator’s license, has legally agreed to try their best to minimize the threat they pose to other road users.

      When a driver chooses to ignore their obligations like checking their blind spots, and ends up killing someone as a result, they have been negligent. However, there are so many people out there who have similarly let their level of responsibility lapse, that juries can’t bring themselves to convict a driver for something they are also negligent about.

      Fred has clearly demonstrated above the kind of selection bias that has put our juries into this sorry state. Every time a driver sees a crash story and chooses to focus on a personality flaw of a bicyclist instead of how they as a driver might have prevented the situation is another link of negligence added to the chain that endangers us all. And Fred is not the only one – go to your local news station’s comment section under a story about a driver-bicyclist crash and you will see Fred’s biases repeated again and again and again.

      • You mention motorists handbook, matt logan, arent bicyclists suppose to follow those rules too?
        You seem to show you biases again and again, by thinking you have more rights, and seem to think bicyclists don’t have to follow any rules, seem to think you can just ride your bicycles anywhere you please, even when it’s not safe to do so. You push your negligence on the people that are more easier to ticket, why is that? Its time to register and put license plates on bicycles, and all that, put your money where your mouth is, bicyclists. Otherwise stop asking for special treatment, if you truely want to be equal.

        • Fred,

          Where did I imply anything about a lack of responsibility to ride a bicycle safely? Your uncanny ability to read “arrogance” between the lines of my post is precisely why this law is needed – to offset the obvious biases that Fred, and many, many potential jurors like him have about bicyclists.

          Imagine Fred sitting as a juror, hearing a case where a driver’s actions resulted in the death of a bicyclist. Sitting on that jury, Fred will be churning through his negative feelings about bicyclists are and how convicting the driver of negligence would make bicyclists even more arrogant. Fred has an agenda for bicyclists, and he is more than willing to impose it in a court setting, even if it means letting someone who has killed off with a $120 fine. Not everyone is as overtly biased as Fred, but we all know from the comments we hear elsewhere that the bias is always there, just under the surface.

  2. While I fully support holding people accountable for their actions on the road, I have serious doubts about the likelihood that Scott Walker would sign this bill. A similar bill went through the Texas legislature a few years ago, and “avid” bicyclist Rick Perry vetoed it.

    I see the political weakness of the current bill exactly where the ABATE people object: It creates additional penalties based on WHO is injured, and I suspect a lot of talk radio hosts on both sides are going to have a field day with that. I would prefer to see a bill that created additional penalties triggered by how much injury is inflicted.

    At the core of this issue is the fact that most jurists (and voters) are people who don’t sympathize with the perspective of a bicyclist. The average person maintains a stereotype of bicyclists as having an “entitlement mentality” that makes them prone to “darting” and “blowing stop signs”, while at the same time, being all too willing to excuse the mistakes of drivers when they injure bicyclists and pedestrians. This is why juries have been hard to convince that a driver’s actions meet the test of negligence when they kill pedestrians and bicyclists. What is needed is a new category with a somewhat lower legal threshold based on the level of injury that jurists are willing to convict for. By making the trigger the level of injury, the bill would get around the stereotypes and biases of jurists that prevents them from seeing negligence in the behavior of a driver.

  3. Glad to hear you are OK Dave. I have great faith that if anyone can bring Vulnerable User home it is you. Myself and all the other Vulnerable Users in this state, and lets be honest all of the 50 states in the US are routing for you!!!!
    Go Dave

  4. Fred, I was actually headed in the opposite direction as the delivery van. He pulled right in front of me turning left into a parking stall. I should have been very easy to see.

    • Why didn’t you say so before! I thought this is was happened: when a delivery van started backing up toward me in the bike lane.

      • Fred,
        Your inability to get the story straight before you reach your conclusion is just one more proof that this law is needed to overcome the cultural biases that most people have about bicyclists.

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