The inequities that exist in road rules are applied to bicycles now sharing our roads in increasing numbers, and the lack of accountability and liability for cyclists generated quite a stir when made some suggestions for bicycle licensing and road law reforms earlier this year. (Click here and here for the articles.) Now, a real-life situation has given armchair advocates for common sense cycling responsibility a reason to start talking and balance the heavy lobbying of local and county governments by cycling special interest lobbies such as the Cascade Bicycle Club.
Levi Pulkkinen, a reporter for Seattlepi.com, wrote Thursday about a case in the hands of the King County Prosecutor’s office. A cyclist is accused of colliding with a 6-year old child near Seattle’ Pike Place Market after having already committed several moving violations. Pulkkinen wrote: [emphasis mine]
A 32-year-old bicyclist accused of striking a child then fleeing the scene has been charged with vehicular assault and hit-and-run.
On Friday, King County prosecutors contend, Rafael Araneta was approaching Pike Street on First Avenue when he saw that several cars were stopped at the downtown Seattle intersection. Rather than stop at the red light, Araneta allegedly moved to pass the stopped traffic and cross the intersection against the light.
Cutting in front of another pedestrian, Araneta’s bicycle struck a 6-year-old child, prosecutors argued in court documents. The child was thrown to the ground so hard his jaw was broken, an injury that later required it be wired shut.
Prosecutors contend that Araneta fell off his bike, but then grabbed the bike and began riding away. Several witnesses restrained Araneta until police arrived.
The behavior alleged by prosecutors — that Araneta ran red lights and weaved through pedestrians on sidewalks — is a commonplace sight for downtown workers and residents. So is the occasion to observe a trio of paramedics attending to cyclists becoming far more common, a trend that will likely continue if bicycle-riding Mayor-elect Mike McGinn and his friends in the Cascade Bicycle Club continue to have miniscule restraint in the form of now-absent points of view on the cons of co-mingling bicycles, motorists, and pedestrians in public spaces.
The question that will remain even if prosecutors are able to obtain a conviction is whether the cyclist is able to cover the liability stemming from the accident. The medical bills of the alleged victim will be sizable, but there is no mandatory liability insurance coverage for cyclists.It is also fortunate that law enforcement officers were able to locate the suspect soon after the alleged incident occurred. Without any identifying information like a bicycle license plate, the rush to find an assailant in a case such as this is not always going to end as happily and makes the prosecution’s job harder when it comes to positively identifying a defendant as the individual charged with a crime.
The time is now to begin discussing common sense reforms to meet the specific and unique challenges of shared road spaces. We should not leave accountability for cyclist’s actions up to their own voluntary sense of responsibility. Most cyclists are fine upstanding people, the sort who understand that there are no free rides. If society wants more bikes on the road (are you listening, Seattle?) society should also be willing to acknowledge all privileges come with acknowledgements and assurances of responsibility.
[This post originally appeared on UnequalTime.com at http://unequaltime.com/2009/11/cyclist-hit-and-run-prompts-discussion-about-bicycle-licensing/]
[featured image credit: tom cochrane]