Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kill a bicyclist, watch TV, Part II, (essay by Jennifer Buntz)

Jennifer Buntz, President of the Duke City Wheelmen Foundation (DCWF), penned this (so to speak) to the BikeABQ, the Albuquerque bicycling listserve. Worth posting here, so here it is with my blessings:

Traffic Safety
"In the complicated world of bicycles and motor vehicles sharing the same streets and highways, things usually go right, but sometimes they can go wrong. When they do go wrong, DCWF along with the New Mexico Motorcycle Rights Organization have been working to strengthen the penalties that can be imposed on offenders.

We will again be working with Rep. Miera on a "vehicle neutral" piece of legislation that would up the penalty options for a "Careless Driver" (as defined in NM State law) who causes the death or great bodily harm of another road user.

The morass of "Careless" vs. "Reckless" driving and when "Homicide by Vehicle" can be charged is described at

It is confusing at first, mostly because it just doesn't make any sense that a death (or great bodily harm) can be punished so lightly. I have talked to several people from the District Attorney's office and the office of the NM Attorney General about the situation. They all tell me the same thing, that currently other charges (and the associated stiffer penalty options) are not applicable to the most common type of circumstances that surround crashes that claim the lives of cyclists (or motorcyclists or pedestrians for that matter).

In 1993 a driver was charged with involuntary manslaughter for the crash that she caused (the person who died was a passenger in the car at the time). Although convicted, the conviction was ultimately overturned because NM law specifies deaths in traffic crashes be charged under the "Homicide by Vehicle" statute. This in turn requires the charge can only be brought under the circumstances of "Reckless Driving" or "Driving Under the Influence."

State v. Yarborough, 1996 NMSC 068, 21, 122 N.M. 596, 930 P.2d 131 - Which determined in part that merely careless driving cannot form basis for involuntary manslaughter conviction, which requires showing of criminal negligence.

We saw in the trial of Miranda Pacheco for the death of cyclist David Anderson how difficult it is for the prosecution to convince a jury "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the circumstances actually meet those required for the actions to be deemed "Reckless Driving." In this case, although Ms. Pacheco was charged with "Homicide by Vehicle, Reckless" the jury convicted only on the "Careless Driving" alternative charge.

Alternatively, the driver who killed cyclist Matt Trujillo, Memori Hardwick, was charged with (and plead guilty to) "Homicide by Vehicle, Driving Under the Influence" and was sentenced under the much harsher penalties allowed.

Please take the time to educate yourself about this issue.
For the law to change, we will need everyone who feels incensed by the situation to write to their State Representative, Senator and to our Governor.

No law or safety device will ever take the place of driving your bicycle with safety ALWAYS in the front of your mind. Same goes for time you spend driving a motorized vehicle too. Or when you are walking your dog for that matter. Any time we are on the road we need to think for ourselves and the other road users out there. We need to obey the rules of the road as we are most predictable when we do.

Wave at motorists to get their attention, to acknowledge when they do the right thing and to let them you know they are there. This simple action can go a long way towards giving you hassle free, pleasant rides and keep you safer all at the same time!"


Jennifer Buntz
President, Duke City Wheelmen Foundation


Ian Brett Cooper said...

Getting motorists' attention doesn't work. I've had a motorist looking directly at me, clearly recognizing that I was there, then drive straight at me, because the recognition of a cyclist does not necessarily translate in their brain to a hazard, and all that stops many drivers is the threat of a hazard to themselves. You have to understand that many times, these folks are essentially on autopilot.

The only way to be safe on the road at an intersection is to match one's speed to the potential threats of the situation, so that you can stop or evade as potential threats develop into imminent dangers. In my opinion, looking to motorists to give clues as to a cyclist's safety is a recipe for disaster.

Jennifer Buntz said...

I agree that the burden of being safe, as cyclists on the road, falls to us. Riding at a speed that gives you the options you need at intersections is critical.

However, I believe that my suggestion of waiving is different from your account of making eye contact for two reasons. First, you don't actually know that you made eye contact. Often the motorist waves back, so I know that they have actually seen me!

Second, and more importantly, the motion, the act of waiving, serves a different function. Breaking our profile (no matter how obvious we think we are) gets peoples attention in a different way. Its the movement, the motion that is important. Much more to this, you can check out some of the things that I have read that I feel bolster this approach (see below), however this approach is based primarily on years of my own experiences. Plus, it is much tougher to get mad at someone who just waived to you!!

Take a look at:

If you click the "attorney's guide" you are directed to a trove of information about perception and visual attention. Here:

A Yahoo group, Chain Guard, also is an interesting source of information on which you can build your own bicycle driving habits.

Jennifer Buntz said...

Steve A said...

I can't say I put much faith in eye contact, as noted at

I AM, however, a fan of waving, especially in response to courteous motoring behavior. I think it also encourages future courtesy.