Kimberley Davis… What this Australian twit teaches us about the state of American roads?

By | April 29, 2014
So annoyed a Cyclist hit her car.

So annoyed a Cyclist hit her car.

Last week I discovered this lovely piece of humanity.  Her name is Kimberley Davis, a provisional Australian driver who hit a cyclist while texting.  When she hit the cyclist she broke his back and he spent months recuperating from his injuries.  Her attitude was something I would have expected from an American.  She showed no remorse and was annoyed by the damage that the cyclist inflicted on her expensive BMW.  You can read about it in the article below.

I posted this article on CYCLEBUTTCRACK’s Facebook page.  Within a couple days it had over 14,000 views and been shared 40+ times.  That is the most I have ever seen from a Facebook post!  It was not just Facebook.  Kimberley and her callous, irresponsible behaviour has struck a nerve all over the world.  She has been covered nationally by the Australian press as well as internationally by the BBC and Huffington Post among others.  Little Kim is famous!
The most disturbing thing about this story was the fact that the punishment was so light.  Her punishment was a suspended license.  If she had beaten her victim with a Cricket bat instead of hitting him with her car, she would be sitting in prison.  Why should she be treated so leniently just because she is driving a car?  Well it turns out that preferential treatment of drivers on Australian or American roads is no accident.
Before the advent of the automobile, the street was considered the public realm.  If a pedestrian was struck by a wagon or other large vehicle, the responsibility was placed on the operator of the larger vehicle.  He should assume a pedestrian would step into the road.  When bicycles came onto the scene with their high speeds and reckless maneuvers, people were upset.  Cyclists organized in Seattle and other cities.  Cyclists were the first to call for the improvement of  Seattle’s roads.  Seattle had an excellent network of bike paths at the turn of the twentieth century.  The next technology to arrive on the public streets was the automobile.
When the automobile arrived on the scene, it brought a whole new dimension of speed to the streets.  In this time, there were few rules for drivers.  Young drivers would race through cities rough streets in their cars at speeds in excess of 25 mph!  As you would expect, accidents were common place.  The public was outraged!  When the public began to call for car’s speed to be mechanically limited…  The automotive industry took action.  They bought off public officials and used a very effective public relations campaign.  They created the term ‘Jaywalker’ a stupid person who crosses the street illegally.  They changed the street from the public realm and gave it to the realm of the car.  Their public relations campaign also shifted the blame from the motorist to the pedestrian as the cause of accidents.  This is covered in the following article.
We still live with the results of the automotive lobby.  When vehicle accidents occur with pedestrians or cyclists, the pedestrian/cyclist is assumed to be at fault.  It is rare for the driver to receive a citation.  You can beat someone with your fist and be guilty of assault.  However, if you negligently hit them with your 6,000 lb car you are likely to be get off with a slap on the wrist if anything.  In recent years Washington and other states have enacted vulnerable user legislation to address this.  In Washington, this legislation established penalties for accidents involving vulnerable users where the motor vehicle operator acted negligently.  Under this law a vulnerable user is: a pedestrian, person riding a animal, person on an unenclosed tractor, motorcycle operator, electric scooter/wheelchair operator, moped, scooter, motorcycle or cyclist.  Penalties are up to 90 days in jail and a $5000 penalty.  One could argue that even these penalties are too lenient, but it is a start.  Here is the Washington State Vulnerable user law.  Similar laws are gaining traction nationwide.  This is a good thing.  However there is no guarantee the law will be enforced.
The first instance that the Washington State Vulnerable User Law was used was a failure.  A woman was struck by a vehicle and critically injured.  The driver was not cited for the infraction.  When the woman eventually began the long road to recovery, it was she that called to penalize the driver under Washington’s Vulnerable User Law.  Ultimately, the charges were dismissed as a result of a technicality (the arresting officer not doing his job).
The very nature of the public right of way has changed dramatically since the advent of the automobile.  Some of those changes make sense.  Some degree of segregation between automobiles and other uses makes sense.  However the rules of the road have been altered to favor the driver.  Vulnerable User Laws are beginning to address this, but there is still a long way to go.  As a cyclist you have to know your rights if the worst happens.  You have to be familiar with the law.  You cannot assume that the responding officer will.  You have to stand up for your rights.  If 911 is called, insist that an officer come investigate.  Insist that a report be filled out.  This may be difficult to do if you or a friend is hurt, but this is when it is most critical.
A fair amount of research went into this article.  I spent a good amount of time reading all sorts of blogs and news stories.  If you are interested in more information, please check out the following links:

Jaywalking: How the car industry outlawed crossing the road.  BBC
Bike-Car Battles: Time to Get along  Crosscut
Seattle Drivers Atrocious from the Start Crosscut
The Car that broke the back of Seattle’s bike craze Crosscut
Texting Driver who Slammed into Cyclist: I, like, ‘Just don’t care’  Huffington Post
Murder Machines: Why cars will kill 30,000 Americans this year.  Uma (in)certa antropologia
Seattle Bicycle Accident Attorneys  Davis Law Group
Washington State Vulnerable User Law Washington State Legislature

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