LMB Priorities Coasting Through House
This is turning out to be a big week for Michigan bicycling, with two of LMB's advocacy priorities receiving support from the Michigan Legislature. Both our turn signal revision legislation and our vulnerable roadway user bills received positive votes, moving them one step closer to becoming law.
HB 4866 - Right Turn Signal Revision
On Tuesday October 15th, the House voted unanimously to give bicyclists the option of signaling a right turn by extending their right arm horizontally. They currently can signal a right turn with an L position by extending their left arm upward. This gesture was developed for automobile drivers before there were electric turn signals because it was impossible to signal with a right arm out the window.
House Bill 4866 is sponsored by Representative Anthony Forlini (R-Harrison Township). He said the bill grows out of his personal biking experience, which indicates that most car drivers are unfamiliar with bicyclists' right-hand turn gesture.
"When I signal a turn in the traditional way, some drivers think I am waving at them and wave back," Forlini said. "If a right-hand signal is put in use, bicyclists and motorists will understand the signal, and the road will be safer for all concerned."
HB 4866 now heads to the Senate where it has been referred to the Committee on Transportation. Once LMB communicates with the Committee Chair, we will deem if any action by our membership is needed to help advance this bill to the Senate Floor and subsequently the Governor's desk.
HB 5080* - Vulnerable Roadway User
Separately, on Wednesday morning, the House Criminal Justice Committee voted out bipartisan legislation that would enhance criminal penalties for reckless motorists in the event they injure or kill a bicyclist or other "vulnerable roadway user," including pedestrians and wheelchairs users.
House Bills 5080 and 4792, introduced by Reps. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) and David Nathan (D-Detroit), would update the state vehicle and criminal codes to enact similar penalties as those already in existence for moving violations that lead to injuries or death to construction workers in construction zones, farmers driving farm equipment, and school children in a school zones.
A motorist who kills a bicyclist while committing a criminal moving violation, would face up to 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine. Injuring a cyclist in the same circumstances could result in up to one year behind bars or a $1,000 fine, in addition to punishment for any additional charges.
HB 5080 passed unanimously out of committee and now heads to the House floor. We are now urging LMB supporters to email their individual Representatives to express their support for the legislation.
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* HB 5080 was originally introduced as HB 4799. Over the past few weeks LMB has been working with the bill sponsor and policy staff to make a number of improvements to HB 4799. Ultimately these changes resulted in the introduction of a brand new bill (HB 5080).
While the intent of the legislation remains the same between the two bills, HB 5080 ensures that electric wheelchair users and electric assist bicycles are included in the definition of vulnerable roadway user legislation, whereas they were not under HB 4799.
Additionally, it was also decided that this legislation is more likely to be adopted if the vulnerable roadway user provision is included within the existing section of law dealing with protections for farm equipment operators (257.601c) vs. creating a new section in and of itself as HB 4799 did. We believe legislators will likely receive this more favorably as it is just adding a provision to an existing section vs. creating a brand new one. Since these changes are altering existing law, this is what ultimately triggered the need to introduce a completely new bill.
A big advantage of HB 5080 is that the existing farm statute is triggered by an injury to the vulnerable roadway user vs. serious impairment, a much higher threshold that was included in HB 4799.
HB 5080 does raise the threshold in other ways, however. Instead of a simple moving violation triggering this law, it would now need to be a criminal moving violation (DUI, leaving the scene, etc.). While LMB would obviously prefer the simple moving violation trigger, we are supportive of the proposed changes and ultimately believe that getting vulnerable roadway user defined into law is a major win in and of itself. We also believe that we will be able to leverage this provision further in future advocacy and education efforts.
Interestingly, during our testimony in support of HB 5080 we shared a recent real word example of where this law could have made a difference. Sadly, we have seen an uptick in reports of hit and runs involving bicyclists. Over the past few weeks there were actually two reported in Detroit alone. One involved an 8-year-old boy named Darrin Wilhite, who was tragically killed on October 9th by a driver who fled the scene. The driver later turned himself in to authorities. Much to our surprise, however, the driver has only been charged with leaving the scene of an accident causing death, which only carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison upon conviction. Since the driver left the scene, it is likely that higher charges such as Reckless Driving, a 15-year felony, may have been difficult to prove. If enacted into law, our vulnerable roadway user provision would have offered prosecutes the opportunity to issue higher charges of up to 15 years since leaving the scene of a accident is considered a criminal moving violation.