State Vulnerable User Law

These are the facts: On July 17th, 2011, 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 he was riding his bicycle. The consequences for killing this innocent man are tickets for two moving violations: reckless driving and crossing the centerline.

While nothing can bring back Sam Feritto and no punishment will fairly compensate Mr. Feritto’s family for their loss, the scales of justice seem woefully out of balance in this case.  Current laws just don’t seem to protect vulnerable road users.  Careless drivers who kill innocent people can get off with little more than a fine simply by saying it was an accidentWhile nothing can bring back Sam Feritto and no punishment will fairly compensate Mr. Feritto’s family for their loss, the scales of justice seem woefully out of balance in this case.  Current laws just don’t seem to protect vulnerable road users.  Careless drivers who kill innocent people can get off with little more than a fine simply by saying it was an accident

What are “vulnerable user” laws?

scales of justice with cars on one side and everybody else on the other.

Vulnerable user laws define a class of roadway users who are particularly vulnerable to being killed or seriously injured when hit by a motor vehicle. Currently, ten states have adopted laws to further protect people walking, bicycling, driving farm equipment operators, people in animal-drawn vehicles, equestrians, emergency responders, and law enforcement officials. Vulnerable user laws enhance penalties for drivers convicted of careless or inattentive driving who cause serious physical injury to any of the defined users. 

Why are vulnerable user laws needed?

When a person is killed or seriously injured by someone else’s inattentive or careless driving, our current laws make it extremely difficult for prosecutors to charge them with more than misdemeanor charges and give them a traffic ticket. In order to charge someone with a felony, prosecutors must prove criminal negligence. Criminal negligence is a much higher standard than simple or ordinary negligence and very difficult to prove. Sadly, a common example of  ordinary negligence is “when a person fails to exercise ordinary care, such as if a person is driving a car and changing the radio station at the same time.” Criminal negligence requires proof that reasonable people would believe that an action creates a substantial and unreasonable risk of death or great bodily harm to another.

So if a driver of a motor vehicle hits someone because they fell asleep, was picking up trash from the floor of the passenger side, digging in a bag for a french fry, or even changing the radio, they typically get off with little more than a fine of a few hundred dollars and a moving violation.

The goal of getting our Vulnerable User Law passed is to reinforce the idea that when we are behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and sharing the road with more vulnerable road users, we must drive with extra care. When we are passing a farmer in a tractor, that is not the time to change the station on the radio. More than 1,400 Wisconsin farmers have been hit by cars since 2005, including 25 who were killed. When we are driving next to someone jogging on the shoulder, someone riding a bicycle, a sheriff assisting a breakdown, or a horseback rider, we need to pay full attention to the act of driving our vehicles. If we are very sleepy, we should not get behind the wheel.

Vulnerable user laws provide prosecutors with an enhanced set of penalties that fall between a basic traffic infraction and a serious crime, including significant fines and prison time, if a motor vehicle operator is at fault in a crash that injures or kills a vulnerable user, and is guilty of  things like failure to yield, unsafe passing, inattentive driving and reckless driving. 

Ask: Adopt statutes with enhanced penalties for crashes that kill or seriously injure people walking, bicycling, operating farm equipment, in animal-drawn vehicles,riding on horseback, or working as emergency responders and law enforcement officials.

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