IS $250 Really the Value of a Cyclist Life?


This is a hard post to write because of the vivid reminder of how little our society and courts value cyclist rights. But now it is more than rights, it is the value they place on the lives of cyclists. I live in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, St Petersburg to be precise. There are some very nice areas for riding including the tremendous Pinellas Trail, a converted rail line. However, as a full-time bike commuter I cannot always be on the Pinellas Trail. That is where the problem in the Tampa Bay area comes in.

Since last July 2010,  17 cyclists have been killed, read that again, KILLED, riding on the roads of Tampa Bay. Sometimes it is the fault of the cyclist, sometimes it is the fault of the driver. But now the courts in Tampa have established the value of a cyclist life at $250. In an article in the St Peterburg Times on April 22, 2011 (Law puts a low value on the lives of bicyclists), Dan DeWitt writes about the case of Brad Ash, a bike commuter who was killed last October by Jennifer Tuttle when she hit him with her GMC Yukon. Seems Ms Tuttle was too busy tending to her young son in the back seat of the Yukon to pay attention to where she was driving. So she killed Brad Ash, a 41-year-old middle school teacher. Ms Tuttle was cited for "careless driving," she pleaded "no contest" and Judge Robert J. Cole of Pasco county withheld a formal finding of guilt and fined Ms Tuttle $250 plus court costs.

The irony is she would have been in much more trouble had she hit another car and killed the driver. This was not "careless driving" it was reckless endangerment and put everyone on the road at risk. If you are too busy to pay attention to the road, get out of your car!

Reading the comments is even more elightening to the issues on the roads in Tampa Bay and elsewhere in the U.S. My personal favorite was from a reader with the screen name "fredster" who wrote in the comments:

I love bike riding and do it every chance I get. BUT I also have to drive for a living. 32 k miles per year. I can not always give a bike rider the 3 ft clearance the law says I have to. I am not about to go into the oncoming traffic to obey the law.

That comment alone speaks volumes, the arrogance of someone to say 'I have to drive for a living but I cannot be bothered with obeying laws about a bike rider' perhaps indicates someone in the wrong line of work.

I do all I can to stay out of the way, I found a low traffic route to get to work and I use crosswalks at busy itersections. In fact, last Wednesday I was almost hit by a Dunbar Armored Truck as I was crossing in a crosswalk, with the "walk" indicator lit and the Dunbar driver ran the "no turn on red" sign into the occupied crosswalk. When I called the company the response was "you should be careful."   Really, perhaps your drivers shouldn't run red lights!

So until all parties start to take responsibility for their actions and treat traffic law as something more than a mere suggestion, tensions will continue to rise. This applies to the cycle clubs who go on big, group rides and run stop signs, red lights, etc. These actions anger drivers, who in turn are less inclined to honor the rights of the bike commuter, who may be obeying the stop signs and red lights.

Finally, until the courts and police take the issue seriously and enforce the laws on the books, drivers will never honor the rights of bike riders. Judge Robert J. Cole has now established that it is more cost effective to kill a bike rider than it is to get a speeding ticket. I can't help but wonder if the fine would have been the same if the cyclist had been his son, daughter, or wife? Perhaps it is time for Pasco County to vote Robert Cole out of office.

In closing, think about the impact to society where we value the life of a human being differently based on the mode of transportatioin they choose. I will keep commuting and working to raise awareness of the benefits of cycling, will you do your part to calm the tensions between cars and bikes?
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