Can Chicago drivers and bicyclists find common ground?: Part II

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about the long-standing dispute between bicyclists and automobiles. This problem can be seen on the streets of Chicago and in nearly every other densely populated urban area across the United States.

Despite the popularity of cars, bicycle traffic will not be going away, and in all likelihood will be increasing over time. Unless all travelers can find common ground, the rate of fatal bicycle accidents will continue to rise.

In our last post, we mentioned a recent New York Times article written by a man named Daniel Duane. In his article, Duane argues that in the dispute between drivers and bicyclists, each side offers valid criticisms of the other. Many drivers say that bicyclists slow down traffic while also refusing to obey traffic laws. Bicyclists often say that inattentive drivers are killing bicyclists in preventable accidents and police don’t seem to care.

Although both sides may share the blame, it is hard to ignore the fact that bicyclists have the most to lose as the result of an accident. And even when an automobile driver is clearly at fault for a crash, they may face little in the way of criminal consequences.

Most police officers use cars the vast majority of time, Duane says. For this reason, they may be reluctant to press charges against a driver because they can sympathize. Juries also tend to identify with motorists. As such, they may not want to convict a driver facing criminal charges due to a “that could have happened to me” attitude.

So how do we find common ground? How can we change the dynamic so that everyone has a vested interest in preventing bicycle accidents? Duane suggests two changes that are already being implemented in some cities.

First, cities need more bike lanes that are separated and protected from traffic. Second, the penalties for drivers who strike a cyclist need to be harsh enough to change driver behavior and lenient enough so that police are willing to press charges in most cases.

In Oregon, for instance, drivers who hit a bicyclist may face:

  • License suspension
  • A mandatory traffic-safety course
  • A fine of up to $12,500 or a maximum of 200 hours of community service

Hopefully, more major cities will adopt progressive policies that hold both bicyclists and drivers accountable for road safety. And even if the criminal justice system is unwilling to address this problem, there are other alternatives for accident victims; including personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

Source: New York Times, “Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclists?” Daniel Duane, Nov. 9, 2013