Laws Fail to Keep Up With Efforts to Encourage Biking and Walking

As cities across the world expand their infrastructure to support more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly environments, outdated laws still support the use of streets by automobiles over people.
August 11, 2012, 1pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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In most states, when a pedestrian or bicyclist is struck and killed by a moving vehicle, the driver of the vehicle can often leave the scene "without criminal charges, civil liabilities or administrative penalties." With cities across the country seeking to make their streets more accessible to all users, Alex Marshall argues that, "Without laws protecting bikers and walkers, however, the goal of having truly livable cities in America remains out of reach."

"Right now bikers -- and, to some extent, pedestrians -- are in a Catch-22," writes Marshall. "It's long been known that there is a 'safety in numbers' phenomenon. The more people walk or bike, the more the drivers of cars look out for them. But people won't ride bicycles if it's not safe, and it's not safe because people don't ride bicycles. A big step forward is to put the primary responsibility for keeping streets safe on the drivers of the two- and 10-ton vehicles that routinely kill people."

Marshall looks to Europe, where "cycling is an integral part of life," for a potential legal solution - "strict liability." 

"It [strict liability] means that if you, the driver, strike a pedestrian or cyclist, you are automatically at fault, even if the walker or cyclist literally jumps out in front of you. This may not seem fair, but a system where a cyclist and a driver are on equal footing is not a fair one either, because the results of any collision are so unequal. A system needs to acknowledge that it is the driver of a car or truck that is doing something inherently dangerous."


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Published on Friday, August 10, 2012 in Governing
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