KCStar: Tougher penalties needed when driver error takes a life

Kansas City Star columnist Mike Hendricks wrote today in response to the recent fatalities of two Kansas City area bicyclists, Larry and Sierra Gaunt, and the memorial ride in their honor Wednesday that attracted over 650 bicyclists:

Following a rash of cycling deaths last summer, a group made up of local officials, police departments and bicycle/pedestrian advocates formed.

That led to a publicity campaign promoting road safety and work to certify an investigator who could specialize in bike and pedestrian accidents.

There’s also an effort to step up enforcement of traffic laws.

But it’s not nearly enough, we both agreed. And the hope out at the ride Wednesday was that maybe, just maybe, this tragedy will bring real change.
“We need some new laws in place,” Hugh said.

Tougher laws that would let everyone know there are serious consequences when someone dies or is injured due to a motorist’s act of carelessness or worse.

Now in both Missouri and Kansas, that’s not always the case. The punishment is often either a slap on the wrist or else you get the book thrown at you. There’s not much in between, especially in the Show Me State, where the wrist slap is meted out regularly. . . .

to get the motoring public’s attention, we need harsher legal penalties when driver error is involved in taking a life. Something more than the wrist slap and less than vehicular manslaughter, as prosecutors won’t normally bring the felony charge without proof of intent or impairment. (In Kansas, it can also be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.)

So the Missouri Bicycle Federation is lobbying for increased fines, suspensions and jail time where a moving violation results in injury or death.

It wouldn’t be only to protect bicyclists. The victim could be someone riding a motorcycle, walking down a street or riding in a car or truck.

Pushing such a bill in Jefferson City is Rep. Mike Sutherland, a Warrenton Republican and a cyclist.

“I’m trying to get the penalty to be stiffer,” he said. “Finding something in the middle might be the appropriate thing to do.”

Appropriate and long overdue. After all, just think how you’d feel to learn, as Brewer’s sister Linda Babcock did, that in the eyes of the law your loved one’s life was worth a mere couple of hundred bucks and nothing more.

“It seems like so little for a life taken,” she said.
Archive copy of Hendricks' column

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