Today, in a packed listening session at the Wisconsin state capitol, the vulnerable user law was being discussed. As I entered room 425 late due to work, I was immediately warmed by seeing so many familiar faces--most there to support a bill which would end the revictimization of those hit by vehicles while walking, biking or traveling by horse and buggy or farm equipment.
As I sat quietly on the floor, listening to story after story of people getting hit--some killed, some survived--emotions began to well up. Aside from animal abuse and environmental issues, this is my biggest "hot button" issue. Being a year round cyclist, almost my entire life, I have had my share of close calls with inattentive drivers both on foot and on bike. I have also been hit a few times. Thankfully, only one of those incidents led to severe injury in which I had to take time off work and seek medical attention. Odd as it may seem, I am more passionate about Wisconsin passing the vulnerable user law because of the other's I've seen affected rather than my own experiences. I don't think I have one cycling friend or pedestrian friend who hasn't been affected by drivers who shouldn't be behind the wheel.
I chose not to tell my personal stories because I didn't want to disrupt the room to fill out a sheet since I had come in late, and a part of me now regrets it. Politicians need to be aware of how many people are affected, on a daily basis, by careless drivers. When Dave Cieslewicz, the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation's new Executive Director, took the floor, he opened by telling the room about being hit just this morning while biking into work by an inattentive driver. He was unharmed, and the driver admitted to not paying attention, however, if Dave had been injured, the driver would have likely only suffered a slap on the wrist.
The one time I was hit, and injured severely, the driver got off scott free since it was a "hit and run". The police never found the driver and I was stuck with the medical bills and bike damage. Even if the person had been caught, I know, from past experience, that it would have been a very difficult fight to have my medical bills covered as well as my lost work time reimbursed. I actually turned down an ambulance ride to the ER, even though I and the medics were concerned that I had a bleeder into my elbow, because I knew I would have to cover the ambulance ride. This is sad on so many levels. Thankfully, I was an EMT years ago and knew what to look for. I also had the common sense to get my ass into the ER if I suspected anything more than contusions and a concussion. Most people who have been struck by a driver, however, are not so lucky. Many will suffer mentally and physically for a long time, if they survive, and will never get a sense of "justice".
If you are one of the thousands, who have been affected by a reckless driver while walking or biking, I urge you to write into you state senator and representative and ask them to pass the vulnerable user law. I also ask you to support the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation by becoming a member, volunteering and/or donating since they are the non-profit group who got this bill on the table. One day, when this bill passes, we, as pedestrians and cyclists will be protected!