Monday, April 8, 2013

Wisconsin Considers "Vulnerable User" Law After Bicyclist Killed in Suburban Crash

On Tuesday, April 9, 2013, more than 100 members of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin will meet with their state representatives at the Capitol building in Madison to lobby in favor of a bill that would make it a felony to commit certain traffic violations that lead to the injury or death of vulnerable users of Wisconsin roads, including bicyclists.  The proposed bill follows in the footsteps of laws enacted in eight other states, including Illinois, which have been dubbed "vulnerable user" laws.  Vulnerable user laws are intended to increase the penalty for non-reckless traffic violations that result in the injuring or killing of pedestrians. In the absence of a vulnerable user law, responsible motorists often escape serious or even fatal accidents with nothing more than a small traffic fine. 

The Wisconsin bill was proposed on the heels of the suburban Milwaukee (Waukesha County) District Attorney's decision not to file criminal charges against a motorist who caused a collision allegedly resulting in the death of a bicyclist.  The motorist allegedly fell asleep at the wheel of his vehicle, crossed the center line, and crashed into bicyclist Robert Gunderson.  Because the District Attorney concluded that the motorist was not driving in a criminally reckless or negligent manner, the motorist was ticketed for failure to keep control of his vehicle and paid a $126 fine.  The proposed bill seeks to remedy this injustice by increasing penalties for drivers who are not engaging in reckless behavior, such as driving under the influence, but nonetheless violate existing traffic laws and cause serious or deadly harm to other users of the road.

The Illinois Bicycle Attorneys of Keating Law Offices fully support  the members of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin in their efforts to lobby for a bill that is so vital to the safety of Wisconsin bicyclists.  The Illinois legislature enacted its vulnerable user law in 2010, following over 1000 serious pedestrian injuries and 171 pedestrian deaths in 2009, illustrating the necessity of vulnerable user laws.  We hope that the Wisconsin legislature will follow the Illinois legislature's lead and become the ninth state to recognize and remedy this unfortunate gap in existing traffic laws.

If you have any questions regarding this post please contact Illinois Bicycle Attorney Mike Keating at 312-208-7702 or Mike Keating is a graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is a member of the bar for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.