Last September, Alan Deane was riding his bicycle to work in Pasadena when he was struck and killed by a driver who made a left turn into him. It was Alan’s 61st birthday.
Yesterday Deane’s killer, 30-year-old Sidharth Misra, was sentenced in a Pasadena court after being convicted of reckless driving. After viewing a surveillance video of the incident, Pasadena Police initially sought a charge of Vehicular Manslaughter, but attorneys plea bargained it down to reckless driving because, as Judge Stephen Monette explained, even though Misra was entirely at fault, there was no evidence that he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. So let me get this straight. If you’re impaired and you plow into a bicyclist, it’s manslaughter. If you’re perfectly sober and you plow into a bicyclist because you fail to exercise proper caution, you’re held to a lesser responsibility? Seems like when you’re sober, you ought to be expected to know better.
In the courtroom, Mr. Misra expressed remorse for his actions, and I do not doubt he is sincere, but I would expect that someone who recklessly takes someone else’s life with a motor vehicle to at least lose the privilege of driving for a while. This driver has proven he can’t properly handle a motor vehicle. Mr. Misra’s penalty for killing Deane? 400 hours of community service and 3 years probation. Alan’s grieving father told the Pasadena Star-News he considered the penalty “a slap on the wrist,” and “completely insignificant.” I agree.
Among bicyclists, there is an ironic joke that if you want to get away with murder in the United States, just be sure your victim is on a bicycle and you are in a car. No judge will punish you. Judge Monette said at the sentencing, “Nothing I do can ultimately change the fact that Mr. Deane is not with us anymore.” So, if you’re killed by a reckless driver while lawfully riding your bike home, too bad? The guy who couldn’t be bothered to slow down and watch the road while operating a 2,000-lb motor vehicle can’t be expected to be held fully responsible for taking a human life, can he? Certainly no reason for suspending his driver’s license for a while, eh judge? After all, as judge Monette said to the other (motorists) in the courtroom: “All of us could have been in that situation …” You know how it is. We all drive recklessly and take a human life from time to time.
In many European countries, there are “vulnerable road user” laws that protect bicyclists and pedestrians. Penalties are stiff for killing a vulnerable road user and drivers are taught to watch for pedestrians and bicyclists. Road design in Europe also provides space for bikes and pedestrians and slows traffic speeds. As a result, their safety records are far better than ours. Their laws value human life over shaving a minute off someone’s drive home.
Maybe we should too.