Community Disservice: Should we care what happens to careless drivers?

I didn’t know it until just days ago, but Nebraska-native, elite racer and “Maximum Enthusiasm” podcaster Megan Hottman (aka, the Cyclist Lawyer) was struck and injured by a careless driver back in May. She was riding in an Arvada, Colo., bike lane when she was hit by a 19-year-old woman.

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Hottman sporting a rad pair of Pirate Cycling League socks. (Photo, Bicycling Magazine)

Hottman’s Golden, Colo., law office exclusively serves injured cyclists. I wish that market were too small to sustain a law practice, but it isn’t. Hottman said that this year alone, seven cyclists have been killed riding in and around Denver.

Colorado’s Vulnerable Road User Bill, signed into law on the day Hottman was injured, was designed to address that problem. The law gives judges authority to apply stiffer sentences to negligent drivers who injure others—including suspending their licenses.

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Governor Jared Polis threw on a bike helmet to show support as he signed the bill into law. (Photo, Andy Bosselman)

Ciera Spaulding, the young woman who struck Hottman, pled guilty to careless driving. This month, the judge chose not to apply the new law in Spaulding’s case, sentencing her instead to 50 hours of community service and nine months of unsupervised probation.

Hottman, who suffered a brain injury and lacerations, was disheartened by the light sentence. She told her local NBC news affiliate, “I’m certainly frustrated because I feel like if I can’t get this law charged in my own case, how am I going to do this for the cyclists that we represent?”

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Hottman stands in her Boulder, Colo., office with a bike that’s not supposed to fold like that. (Photo, cyclistlawyer.com)

I share Hottman’s frustration. I can also fathom why a judge would show mercy to a young woman pleading guilty in her second year of legal adulthood.

It’s in these overlapping hungers—for more justice, for more empathy—that my thinking on these issues rolls into a royal twist.

We’re being routinely maimed, and too often killed, by an American public that can’t bother to put their phones down as they drive. I’m not talking directly about Spaulding here, as I don’t know whether her carelessness involved her cellphone. But I stop at Lincoln curbs and count the drivers gazing at their laps. And I rage. I’ve also watched a growing trend of drivers accelerating through flashing crosswalks to “beat” the need to yield. And I rage more.

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At first, signs like this one at 33rd and MoPac worked like gangbusters. But I’m seeing more drivers treat them like yellow lights they can beat if they gun it. (Photo, lincoln.ne.gov)

My rage hits them (if it hits them at all) only abstractly.

You see how pissed that guy was? LOL.

I’m not a person in this instance so much as a noise. And who has time for that noise?

Then I read the Lincoln paper and cringe at the way drivers sometimes describe cyclists. We’re not biking to work; we’re “running rampant.” We’re seen as something a little wicked, and a lot in-the-way.

Can a lack of empathy change the time it takes to press a brake pedal? Can it affect the discipline with which we check our blind spots or look both ways?

I can’t test it. But I suspect it does.

I suspect that, as our empathy for one another shrinks, our dangerousness to one another grows.

I also suspect we’ll never shout this dynamic away.

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PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE MY TENDER VULNERABILITY AS A FELLOW HUMAN! (Photo, sciencealert.com)

So whatever angry energy we pour into seeking justice, I hope cyclists match it in the ways we also foster a more forgiving empathy for each other. For a lot of the non-riders in my life, I register as their “biker friend.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told something along the lines of, “When I see a cyclist on the street, I always check to see if it’s you.”

It usually isn’t. But it is, every single time, a human being headed somewhere. And when drivers look at a cyclist and think of someone they know, they probably give that person more space. And they drive with greater care.

I believe that kneejerk care—that humanity at a glance—can be as powerful and as protective as any law.

***

Hottman has good advice for cyclists before a ride and after an accident.


2 thoughts on “Community Disservice: Should we care what happens to careless drivers?

  1. It almost never happens to me, but this morning in the predawn dark I had a motorist take aim at me with his car. It was intentional and deliberate. He saw me and went out of his way to come at me. He would have hit me, too, had I not been extra cautious and looked twice. It was my second run in with this guy. The first was three weeks ago, also in the predawn darkness. That time he buzzed me and laid on the horn as he passed. There’s no reason for it. I don’t know him from Adam. Today I called the cops. When it happened the first time, I caught up with him at the mini mart where he stopped and took a picture of his car and tag. This morning I shared it with local law enforcement. They promised they’d call him. He’ll deny everything…or say it was my fault. It’s the culture that needs to change. That’s a big job. I don’t have any answers. After today, I’m getting a set of Cyclic cameras. $500. That’s how much what happened bothers me. My wife knows what to do if my number comes up. She’ll get the best lawyer that money will buy. She won’t play fair. It’s a shame it has to be like this, but it’s the culture that needs to change. Fear is a great motivator. It’s time to put the fear back onto the people who are doing all the damage.

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