Lawmaker, cycling group seek tougher penalties for ‘careless drivers’

Careless drivers who cause a crash that injures other road users may find themselves behind bars if San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and the California Bicycle Coalition get their way. On Monday, April 19, the state Assembly Transportation Committee will hear a bill that aims to stiffen penalties against drivers who cause traffic collisions that injure cyclists, pedestrians and other motorists. Facing a quick deadline, the California Bicycle Coalition is spearheading a letter-writing campaign urging lawmakers to pass the bill. Authored by Ammiano, the bill, dubbed AB 1951, would raise the base fine for violating the basic rules of the road outlined in California Vehicle Code section 21070 from $70 for an injury -- and $95 for causing great bodily injury -- to $145. The bill also calls for traffic offenders to spend between five and 90 days in jail. The current law doesn’t require jail time. Citing the 2010 Biking and Walking Benchmarking Report, the coalition reported that bicyclists and pedestrians in the state are disproportionately at risk in vehicle collisions, accounting for 2.9-percent and 16.7-percent, respectively, of all vehicle collision fatalities in the state even thought they only represent 1.1-percent and 10.6-percent, respectively, of all trips. Passage of the bill would lower healthcare costs, the coalition said, citing a UC San Francisco report that $75 million was spent on treating pedestrians injured in collisions with cars in San Francisco between 2004 and 2008. Seventy-six percent of those costs were paid for by taxpayers through publicly funded sources such as Medicare and MediCal, according to the San Francisco Injury Center for Research and Prevention at UCSF. AB1951 supporters are encouraged to write to Ammiano and Chair Bonnie Lowenthal, Assembly Transportation Committee Chair as soon as possible. The deadline to comment is Friday, April 16.
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