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December 30, 2009

Price of a bicyclist's life? $313

The Baltimore Spokes blog reports on the trial of a St. Mary's County motorist who struck and killed a bicyclist she didn't see because she was driving with a partially fogged-up windshield  while searching for a cigarette lighter.

Found guilty of negligent driving, she was  fined $313 including court costs. The judge refused her request that hew lower the fine.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:17 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bicycles


That headline is a little loaded. Is it clear the bicyclist had a right to be on the road? What is a compelling reason to increase the fine, particularly if the cyclist shouldn't have been there in the first place? I understand that putting a $313 price tag on someone's life is an unfortunate and eye-catching way to look at this judge's ruling, but is that the most reasoned way to look at it? This feels like the reporter has imposed his own opinion on his reportage.

It's a blog, it's opinion. It's allowed. There is enough outrage here to go around.

Where did it say the cyclist is at fault? (S)He has every right to occupy a single lane of a road according to the traffic code. Why SHOULDN'T the cyclist have been on the road?

Furthermore, this person drove on the road, distractedly looking for a lighter for a smoke, AND her windshield wasn't clear?

By all means, since she KILLED A PERSON she should have her license revoked for at least a year.

And, to be fair, that's $312 more than most people think cyclists are worth.

Please note that this is the maximum fine per state law. It can cost you more if you get your car towed from an illegal parking spot then if you negligently take a life.

very sad - it's very scarry how irresponsible drivers have become. Reach, for cigarette lighters, cell phones, etc.

But if you drink a bottle of beer and dismount the cyclist it's call vehicular manslaughter. Needless to say the fine is larger for that. What is wrong with this picture? The biggest thing is too many people just don't care anymore.

This is a classic case for the 3-foot "bubble law," which would require motorists to allow at least three feet of passing room. Motorists need to understand that cyclists have a right on any road except expressways. And, to those who say the "bubble law" is unenforceable, well, I guess the driver would be guilty of it this time, huh?

The $313 is a fine for a traffic violation. Now that she is convicted the family will most likely sue for wrongful death. That is where you will find out the value of a life.

I'm a Maryland biker. This law was overdue for motorcyclist/bikers. There should be something similar for cases like this.

Failure to Yield the Right of Way

Prior to enacting new legislation, the financial penalty for failing to yield the right of way and contributing to a crash was $150, and there were no additional penalties for a crash that results in death or serious bodily injury. Under the new law, a conviction will result in a possible $1000 fine and up to 180-day license suspension.

“Drivers need to understand that they have a responsibility for a motorcyclists’ safety,” said Neil J. Pedersen, Administrator of the State Highway Administration and Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Failing to yield the right-of-way to a motorcyclist is a life and death matter. Eight out of 10 police-reported motorcycle crashes result in the injury or death of a motorcycle rider.”

On average, more than half of the crashes involving motorcycles and vehicles are the fault of the vehicle driver, not the motorcyclist. While the new law is not limited to motorcyclists, motorcycle organizations were the primary proponents of the change in the law.

“The new law is really about awareness, not the penalty. If you have to write this citation after a crash, it’s already too late,” said Neal Ackerson, State Director of A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE) of Maryland, the largest motorcycle rights organization in Maryland and a strong proponent of the new law. “We are hoping that the new law will raise awareness among drivers about motorcycle safety the same way that DUI laws have about drunk driving. If drivers look out for motorcyclists, we can prevent crashes from happening in the first place.”

Motorcyclists also have responsibility for safe driving - being courteous, non-aggressive and cooperative can go a long way in reducing crashes. However, drivers tend to look for other cars, not motorcycles. It is difficult to estimate a motorcycle’s speed and because motorcycles are small, they are sometimes hard to see.

“We now have an epidemic of motorcycle crashes, injuries and fatalities. With the recent rise in fuel prices, we are likely to see even more motorcyclists on the road, so drivers need to be alert and look twice for motorcycles when turning left, changing lanes, and pulling out from side streets,” said Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration John Kuo. “Always allow plenty of space when following a motorcycle. While the slightest contact may only result in a fender-bender for two vehicles, it can mean a spill and probable injury for the rider of a motorcycle.”

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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