When cyclists are injured by the mistakes of motorists, how should our legal system determine when, and to what extent, the driver should be punished?
As we all know, cycling is inherently dangerous, and accidents can happen that do not reflect motorist negligence. Yet, I suspect we’ve all experienced close calls while biking due to severely distracted drivers (cell phone usage, eating, intoxication, etc). What legal responsibility do drivers have to maintain a reasonable level of awareness while operating a motor vehicle? And, if a motorist is grossly negligent and injures others, how should he be held accountable?
At this point, there are few details available regarding the accident that killed Patrick Sawyer, but frankly, I can’t imagine any scenario that does not involve driver impairment or gross negligence. And, because the driver fled the scene it will be much harder to accurately establish the facts of the accident. For example, it will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to determine the potential role of intoxication.
The driver is currently charged with “failure to stop at a traffic accident resulting in death”, which is a Class C felony, and may involve prison time. However, I’m struck that the only apparent crime is his failure to stop. Are there any direct consequences for recklessly endangering the lives of others with a motor vehicle? Is prison time an appropriate punishment? What about providing for Pat’s family?
Personally, I think our laws should strongly encourage motorists to treat driving as an activity worthy of their full attention, and hold them accountable for the consequences when they fail to do so. Perhaps my concern is premature, but it does not appear to me that the current charge appropriately reflects this sentiment.