Are Bicyclist Protections Strong Enough?

Bicycles are terrific green vehicles, so it would make sense for municipalities to encourage as many citizens as possible to leave their car at home and purchase a bicycle instead for daily commuting and running errands. It's certainly true that many cities have created extensive bike lane networks and infrastructure that makes it easier for bicyclists to stay safe on the roads. But as a recent New York Times op-ed points out, there's a major problem with the way these cities are prosecuting (or not prosecuting, as the case may be) drivers who hit bicyclists on the street.

In the article, Daniel Duane, a San Francisco journalist who enjoys biking but worries about the safety issues, notes that there are countless instances of bicyclists who are hit, and sometimes killed, by motorists. Yet these drivers are often allowed to walk away from the incident without as much as a citation, let alone the possibility of jail time. Police departments are typically hesitant to file charges, and in the rare case that these drivers go on trial, juries are unwilling to convict.

The Economist notes that this isn't the case in other countries. In the bike-friendly Netherlands, the driver is almost always at fault if they hit a cyclist. That country has considerably more bike riders than the United States, but in America there are eight times as many cycling deaths per billion kilometers traveled. In order to create the kind of cycling culture in the States that exists in Northern Europe, policy makers and law enforcement must come up with a better system of punishing drivers for hitting cyclists. Given how important bikes will be in the coming decades to reducing carbon emissions and lowering obesity rates, it is essential for local leaders to create a culture that values these habits rather than implicitly punishes them.

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