Last week’s blog post, “Venn Diagrams,” covered issues related to laws on the books in Nebraska that on the surface seem to exist to protect the rights of people walking, but in reality can have the opposite effect. In the example we showed of the pedestrian crossing beacon in Lincoln, the letter of the law impacts the effectiveness (safety benefits) of the infrastructure in place. This week we’ll examine another issue related to the laws on the books.
When we tackled the issue of the rights of bicyclists in crosswalks in 2015, we highlighted several instances of where a person biking was hit by a person driving while riding legally in a crosswalk and then was served a citation for failure to yield, sometimes while laying in their hospital beds recovering from their injuries. It seemed as if the law was working against us and it needed to be changed to make sure people on bikes had the same rights as people on foot. Getting LB 716 passed and signed into law was one of our proudest moments as an organization.
The trouble is, even if Nebraska has the most amazing, progressive bike/ped statutes in place, they are useless if the judicial system doesn’t apply them.
Welcome to A Tale of Two Crashes.
We didn’t have to go far to find examples for this post. Unfortunately, Nebraska is currently experiencing the highest level of fatal crashes involving people walking in 30 years.
Two recent fatal crashes got our attention - one in North Platte and one in Scottsbluff. The circumstances of both crashes are strikingly similar. Both involve a person walking across a street from west to east; both were in marked crosswalks, one had a green light and the other proceeded from a 2 way stop with the right of way, both were hit by people driving that were coming from the east and turning south. Both were taken to the hospital with serious injuries and both died.
This is where the stories diverge.
The driver in the Scottsbluff incident with given a citation at the scene for failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk and then the Scotts Bluff County Attorney followed up by filing a charge of Vehicular Manslaughter. Nebraska Statute 28-306 defines Vehicular Manslaughter as “A person who causes the death of another unintentionally while engaged in the operation of a motor vehicle in violation of the law of the State of Nebraska or in violation of any city or village ordinance commits motor vehicle homicide.” Update on the case here.
The driver in the North Platte incident was not given a citation at the scene and the Lincoln County Attorney elected to not file additional charges against the driver.
When contacted, the Lincoln County staff attorney we spoke to said that there was a police officer was nearby when the crash happened and that video footage was available. We were told (paraphrasing here): “The driver wasn’t doing anything illegal - he wasn’t speeding, he wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t distracted. He immediately stopped to render aid. He willingly gave up his phone to prove he wasn’t distracted and he volunteered to take a blood test to show he wasn’t impaired. He did not resist when we told him we needed to impound his vehicle for the investigation.” It almost seems like feeling really bad about what happened and complying with law enforcement somehow absolved the driver of any wrongdoing. (At least, that’s the charitable explanation.)
Kenneth Laureys, a person whose death was caused by another unintentionally while engaged in the operation of a motor vehicle in violation of the law of the State of Nebraska gets no justice. Not even in the form of a traffic ticket for failure to yield. This is just wrong.
So, what is Bike Walk Nebraska’s role? We’re doing our homework - we want to see if our hunches are backed up by facts before we craft a plan to take action. Last week we talked about how we will be digging in to see if Nebraska’s bike/ped related statutes compare to those in other states. We’re also in the early stages of developing a scope of work for an enterprising law school student or class that could research and document several years worth of charges filed (or not filed) in fatal bike/ped crashes. Once we have this homework done, we’ll be in a good position to determine what our next steps should be.
What’s YOUR role? First, you can support the work of Bike Walk Nebraska by becoming a member. Second, follow us on social media and keep us posted about crashes that happen in your community so that we can monitor trends. We can’t do this without your help - join us today!