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Bill package would provide harsh penalties for hitting or killing bicyclists and pedestrians

LANSING -- A bill package to better protect bicycle riders and pedestrians in the Michigan legislature is picking up steam.

The proposals would introduce new penalties for killing or injuring other roadway users, a change transportation advocates say is much needed.

The proposals would define and create protections for vulnerable roadway users — pedestrians, wheelchair users, bicycle riders and those in an animal-operated carriage.

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Drivers could receive one year for injuring a roadway user, five years for seriously injuring one and fifteen years for killing one.

Supporters say that current penalties too often result in lax punishments for drivers, ranging from license suspension to misdemeanors in most cases.

“The charges that they’re sure they can prove are often a slap on the wrist, the charges that would be sufficient they’re not sure if they can show the intent that would be necessary to meet the elements,” said Matt Penniman, communications and advocacy director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists. “So this closes a gap and gives prosecutors and the judicial system additional options.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Julie Rogers, a physical therapist, said she’s seen first-hand the struggles caused by roadway injuries.

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“Losing one’s mobility and relearning everyday life skills like walking, dressing yourself, holding a pencil and eventually returning to your sport requires perseverance, but equally devastating is when these survivors describe the aftermath and their re-traumatization when the driver of the vehicle involved in their crash is not held accountable,” said Rogers, D-Kalamazoo.

The legislation comes after a string of high-profile bike accidents in recent years. In 2016, five bicyclists were killed by a reckless driver in Kalamazoo County, and in 2022 a driver killed two bicyclists during a Make A Wish charity ride.

Bicycle deaths and injuries have sharply increased in recent years. According to the Michigan State Police, 103 bicyclists died in traffic accidents from 2020 to 2022, a 64% increase from the previous three year period.

Some expressed hesitation to the bills because they don’t condition the charges on the responsibility of pedestrians or bicyclists. If a roadway user is following the law but behaving recklessly, opponents say a driver could be unfairly punished.

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Supporters say those factors could be accounted for in the investigation process, and emphasized that roadway users should still take proper precautions.

“I think there has to be a personal responsibility that anyone who is sharing the road and using the road adopts,” said Rep. Bill G. Schuette, R-Midland.

The bills passed out of the House with strong bipartisan support and will go before the Senate in the coming weeks. Passage into law would likely wait until later this year.

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