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Lawmakers consider stiffer penalties for hitting bikers, pedestrians

Bill creates class of vulnerable highway users

MADISON, Wis. - Lawmakers consider stiffer penalties for hitting bikers, pedestrians

Stiffer penalties could be on the way for drivers who hit a pedestrian or a biker, under a proposal considered Wednesday at the state Capitol.

The bill would create a class of "vulnerable highway users," including those on bikes, on foot or even in horse-drawn buggies. The bill says that injuring those groups with a car is worth more than just a fine.

In a Capitol hearing room, Dave Beam, of Sun Prairie, took lawmakers to the scene of a crash near the village of Plain in June 2010.

"The driver was passing me well to the left and at the last instant, his car swerved to the right and hit me," said Beam. "I flew up and hit his windshield and landed on the side of the road only a few feet from the pavement."

Beam fractured a leg and broke a rib and his neck. The driver, Beam was told at the scene that day, was not charged.

"The EMTs literally had to hold me down when I tried to sit up and argue, and I remember distinctly saying,'You have got to be kidding,'" said Beam.

A bill proposed by Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, would increase penalties for things like inattentive driving, passing illegally or failure to yield if a driver injures a vulnerable highway user.

"Our goal isn't to throw people in jail for long periods of time or extract large sums of money," said Olsen. "It is to reduce the amount of accidents between cars and vulnerable users in the state of Wisconsin."

One motorcycle safety group said the penalties should be increased for hitting any highway user.

"What makes the injury or death of one person any more of a tragedy than the injury or death of another person simply because of their means of conveyance?" said Dave Dwyer, with ABATE of Wisconsin.

Beam said something about the consequences need to change.

"If he hit a mailbox, he probably would have been charged with damage to property or losing control of his vehicle," said Beam. "Almost killing somebody by losing control of your vehicle must mean something."

There was some concern raised during the committee meeting that this could take responsibility away from bikers, but the authors of the bill said it would not change the facts of any case, just increase penalties if a driver was found to be guilty of one of these traffic violations.

The bill will still need a vote in committee to advance.

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