As ‘accident’ victims, pedestrians, cyclists are second class citizens in Texas

by Jim Adler

An item in today’s San Antonio Express-News shows how far Texas has to go to treat pedestrians and cyclists with respect on our roads. It pertains to a horrible accident last week in which a San Antonio-area couple riding a tandem bicycle on a road’s shoulder were hit and killed by a pickup truck traveling 70 mph in a 65 mph zone.

The driver “lost control” — a common excuse for bad driving — and veered onto the shoulder, killing the two people.

No charges have been filed in the tragedy. Nor have charges been filed in the case of David Mollenauer, a San Antonio Symphony musician who was hit by a car while on his bike and left for dead earlier this year.

Mollenauer survived, and witnesses even got the car’s license number. Yet again, no charges have been filed, even though the driver’s identity is known.

Some say that’s because Texas treats cyclists and pedestrians as second-class citizens. If a car strikes property and damages it, then its driver is legally liable for negligence. If a car strikes a person in a motorcycle accident, bicycle accident or pedestrian accident, the car’s driver may face no penalty at all — even in a hit and run!

Up to 20 states have addressed this problem by passing laws requiring drivers to give “vulnerable road users” three to six feet of space when passing. Last year, the Texas Legislature passed such a bill for Texas, too. But Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, claiming that cyclists and pedestrians already were protected.

Tell that to David Mollenauer. Tell that to Gregory and Alexandra Bruhler, the couple with the tandem bike who are now dead. And tell that to countless other bycyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians who are mauled and killed yearly by drivers going too fast and not paying enough attention.

Such drivers do well to notice and heed other cars, much less bikes and pedestrians, while often calling or texting on their cell phone. And they certainly don’t worry about giving extra space to bikes and pedestrians. After all, Texas law doesn’t require it. You see, those people already are protected. At least, that’s what the governor says. Meanwhile, reckless drivers are given a free pass with the thick-headed notion that what happened was “just an accident.”

But accidents don’t just happen. Often they’re enabled. They’re allowed to happen. These “accidents” occur because drivers willfully and by choice fail to provide a proper margin of safety in what they do behind the wheel, even though it could be the difference between life and death.

Ever heard of the motto to “Err on the side of caution”? It’s a worthy pursuit. But Texas doesn’t do this. Texas errs on the side of reckless drivers who go unpunished even after killing innocent people.

“This is a frightening thought, that we care more about property than the lives and welfare of people,” Clifford Hickel, spokesman for the San Antonio Wheelmen bicycle club, told the Express-News. “It’s just very bothersome for the law not to recognize anything wrong with that.”

Jim S. Adler & Associates stands in support of stronger laws to protect our citizens from reckless drivers.

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