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:
"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 DukeCityWheelmen.org
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!"
President, Duke City Wheelmen Foundation