We owe it to James Thomas.
Thomas was a 22-year old man riding his bike in Platteville on September 13th when he was struck and killed by Tyler Sullivan. Sullivan was driving 20 miles an hour over the speed limit, had a broken headlight and was deviating from his lane. Yet, the local prosecutor decided not to charge Sullivan with anything more significant than those simple traffic violations resulting in less than $1,000 in fines.
A few hundred dollars is just too small a price to pay for taking a life. So, the Bike Fed will be reintroducing the vulnerable users bill. This legislation would create a new class of penalties for those convicted of killing or injuring a cyclist, pedestrian, farmer driving a farm vehicle, law enforcement official writing a ticket or aiding a motorist or other vulnerable road users.
The bill would provide an alternative for prosecutors between the simple traffic tickets and the difficult to prove negligent homicide statutes.
We came close to passing this legislation last year. Our bill cleared both the state Senate and Assembly committees on bi-partisan votes and it was ready for scheduling for floor debate in each house. But because a handful of senators in the majority Republican caucus objected to the bill it was never allowed to go to the floor, and it died with the end of the session. A watered down version requiring drivers education instruction on how to be safe around cyclists did become law.
This session after the attacks on cycling that manifested themselves in cutting funding for bike projects and in the repeal of the complete streets law and with the retirement of some of our best advocates in the Republican caucus we thought twice about reintroducing the bill. Our view was that it might be a better investment of the resources our members provide to double down on our work at the local level around the state.
But the clear-cut case of James Thomas – and the twelve other deadly bike crashes this year – has caused us to rethink that decision. While it might be an uphill battle, it’s a fight worth having. And we are developing new champions in the Republican caucus to replace the ones we’ve lost.
We hope to have the bill introduced in the next few weeks.