Bicycling: Distracted Driver Killed Two Florida Cyclists

by Jeff Whitfield on | Comments

Articles Commentary

Broken bike from crash
Broken bike from crash

A friend of mine posted this story on Facebook referencing me on it. He was surprised when I didn't entirely agree that justice was not served for the lady who hit the cyclists in this story. She hit a group of cyclists, killing two, but served no jail time at all. Instead she'll pay a $1,000 fee and serve 120 hours of community service at a hospital in the trauma ward. Apparently, many of the cyclists feel the lady didn't get what she deserved. In other words, no justice was served.

One of the things I pointed out to my friend was that Florida law is what kept this lady from getting any jail time. She pleaded no contest and was not proven to be a reckless driver nor was there any malice or intent to harm anyone on the road. What happened was simply an accident. She likely was distracted, looked down for a few seconds, and BAM!

Now, if I could put myself in the shoes of the cyclists, maybe I too might think justice wasn't served. I certainly can't blame them for feeling that way. But that's not justice really. We all want drivers to be more cautious and watch for cyclists on the road. We also want drivers to be punished when they're not paying attention and do something stupid that results in hitting a cyclist. But I can't say that's what happened here. I can't say this particular driver was completely reckless nor can I say that she was being completely irresponsible. 

She was driving on a 55 mph road and, yes, she was speeding. But the thing that has me questioning this is the fact that the cyclists were on a 55 mph road. What the hell were they doing on that road? What did that actually look like? Did the driver come around a bend in the road? Or was it completely straight? Plus, on a 55 mph road virtually anything can happen. 

In my opinion, that's too fast of a road for most cyclists to be on. As such, it's best to avoid fast roads because, with a distracted driver, all it takes is just a few seconds. Most drivers wouldn't expect to see a cyclist on faster moving roads. So why take the chance?

With that in mind, I can't say it would be fair to give this lady any serious jail time. Accidents can and will happen and, while people need to be held responsible, I don't think we should completely ruin the lives of everyone who makes mistakes. We have to think in context of those mistakes and find ways to avoid them. In this case, I think it would have been better if the cyclists had found a slower moving road to ride on.

Update 2/2/2020:

Recently, I replied to a post on Bike Forums about this story. A few people called me out on it and, honestly, they make some very valid points. My reponse does sound like a judgment against the cyclists. And, yes, I realize that a road with a 55 mph speed limit doesn't automatically make it unsafe. 

The point I was trying to make is that there are a bunch of other factors that perhaps we're not seeing with this story. Going off of what I said before, what were the exact conditions the driver and cyclists were in?  Was it a high-traffic street? Was it two lanes, four lanes, or six lanes? Was there a shoulder that the cyclists could move over to? What time of day was it? What was the traffic like then? Was there a curve in the road just before the driver came upon the cyclists? Were the cyclists in a blind spot of the road? These are all mitigating factors for sure.

Beyond that, there's the issue of the right punishment for the driver. What should have the punishment been? My take is that anything that resembles a felony crime might be too harsh. Having a felony crime on your record is no laughing matter. It can ruin your life for good. It can get you fired from your job and make it super, super difficult to find another job. We have to weigh that in with the nature of what happened. If a person was completely negligent and irresponsible beyond any shadow of a doubt then, yes, perhaps a felony level sentence is warranted. But was that the case here?  That's the question I ask of everyone reading this story.

One commenter mentioned that the penalties for distracted driving should be re-evaluated. I agree. Problem is that each state would have to evaluate their own laws and adjust the penalties as needed. As a cyclist, the only thing I can do is write to my state representative and ask them that they consider looking at the laws governing this and see if any adjustment is needed.

It may appear that my comments are ill-informed and, honestly, I don't pretend to know everything about the law or what justice should look like with accidents like this. All I know is that, if it happened to me, I would want to have a reason to forgive the person that hit me. If that person was truly sorry then, no, I would not want that person's life to be completely ruined. If a death resulted in it, that person would have the burden of having that on their mind for the rest of their life. Accidents can and will happen. What justice looks like and how we deal with it is certainly something that will continue to be a debate. There are no easy answers.

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