WatchSonoma Watch

Assemblyman Marc Levine proposes stiffer fines for striking cyclists, others


California drivers who hit and injure cyclists or other “vulnerable road users” could be slapped with fines of up to $1,000 under legislation proposed this week by a North Coast lawmaker.

The fines would represent as much as a 10-fold increase over current penalties, and according to Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, would lead to fewer collisions between bikes and vehicles.

Levine said the stricter penalties sought in AB 2398 would “protect” cyclists by discouraging distracted driving. The bill also covers pedestrians, highway workers, skaters and people using farm equipment or riding horseback.

“These bicyclists and others face disproportionate road dangers. Motorists need to be aware and to share the road,” Levine said.

A cyclist and cars share the lane on Point Reyes/Petaluma Road west of Petaluma. BETH SCHLANKER/PD

A cyclist and cars share the lane on Point Reyes/Petaluma Road west of Petaluma. (BETH SCHLANKER/PD)

Similar legislative efforts have met with controversy in Sonoma County, as they generally stoke perennial tensions between drivers and cyclists, who tend to blame one another for creating dangerous road conditions.

Cycling has never been more popular in Sonoma County, whether it’s people using bikes to go sightseeing, work out, commute or just cruise around town.

That popularity is bolstered by the world-class athletes who train in the area, and by the prestigious cycling events that are staged here, including the Amgen Tour of California and the King Ridge GranFondo.

Cyclists polled Friday generally supported Levine’s bill, even though they said it likely would not lead to immediate changes on the road.

“Levine’s bill makes it clear that driving a vehicle is a privilege, that cyclists have a right to be on the road and that there are consequences for carelessness,” said Shaun Ralston, an avid Santa Rosa cyclist who commutes to work on his bike.

Sebastopol cyclist Gordon Stewart, however, said he doubted that higher fines would have much of an impact because presumably drivers who hit cyclists do so accidentally, “and you don’t stop accidents by putting fines on them.”

There have, however, been isolated cases of motorists targeting cyclists, including an 82-year-old man who in 2012 rammed a cyclist with his car after chasing him onto an Oakmont golf course.

The number of bicycle collisions on unincorporated Sonoma County roads has held steady in recent years, including 32 in 2013. The crashes resulted in 32 injuries and one fatality, according to CHP data.

In 2012, three people in Sonoma County were killed in bicycle collisions, out of 39 collisions total. The six-year average for crashes in the county is 36.

The CHP has a policy of not commenting on proposed legislation. Officer Jon Sloat said that, in general, increasing penalties for motorists who flout the rules of the road has been shown to have a positive deterrent effect. He said that hinges on motorists becoming aware of what the penalties are.

“If you know how much that’s going to cost you, then I think it’s effective,” he said.

Under current California law, motorists whose bad driving results in injury to another person can be fined up to $95 and lose a point on their license.

Levine’s bill would increase these fines to between $145 and $1,000 for crashes resulting in injuries to vulnerable road users, as the lawmaker defines them. He said the legislation is not an attempt to demonize motorists, however.

“I don’t think it’s demonizing motorists at all,” he said. “It’s making sure that people understand that if you hit a cyclist, it’s just like if you hit a car. There’s really no difference.”

Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed a controversial law requiring motorists to give 3 feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist, something proponents said would help remove ambiguity over what is considered a safe distance to go around.

Critics, however, raised concerns that the law could inflame tensions because motorists can’t legally cross over a double yellow line to give cyclists more space.

However, under the new law, drivers who are unable to leave a cushion of 3 feet can slow to “a reasonable and prudent speed” and pass if it does not endanger the cyclist.

(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.)

11 Responses to “Assemblyman Marc Levine proposes stiffer fines for striking cyclists, others”

  1. The Hammer says:

    Doesn’t this Levine have anything better to do!

    Secondly, I don’t understand why autos have to share the road with bikes. Drivers of auto must have a driver’s license, auto license and liability insurance, all of which cost bucks. Plus autos pay a gas tax. The bikers pay nothing. Just doesn’t make sense to me. Why do they get a free ride.

  2. R.B. Fish says:

    The bike coalition, supported and sponsored by the legal industry, are nothing but spoiled children who are used to getting their way because they know how to cry and scream to the liberal parent. To me three deaths and only 36 unsubstantiated and unidentifiable bike related accidents, in other words, no one who caused the accidents, is a safe record. Many of the bicyclists on the road are very experienced and know how to share the road in a safe way. However, they never stop at stop signs and always hedge the traffic light.
    Many other politicians have refused to sponsor this bill because it truly without merit and only serves the political and recreational few. Now Levine, exercising poor political judgment, is saying to 99% of voting taxpaying people driving cars to go to work to make a living, pick up their kids or participate in other family/community activities are actually mean, incompetent and potentially dangerous drivers and thus less important to him that the politically active mousey environmentalists. Most bicyclists are recreational users except when they clean beaches then they drive their 15 year old sun faded, scratched Subaru or Volvo with bald tires.
    There are many components to Levine’s bill that provide a good chuckle but there’s only limited space to write about them and I have to go to work. I like the “Vulnerable Users” marching slogan that says if you walk on a sidewalk or ride a bicycle your life is jeopardy apparently because your nasty neighbor who may be driving a car nearby may kill you. If you’re a surfer of swimmer you may be vulnerable to the nasty ocean and nasty surfers, if you travel and go on a NYC subway/SF bus you may vulnerable to nasty, pushy fellow travelers, if you go boating on Lake Sonoma you may vulnerable to other nasty, speeding, unlicensed boaters and if you live in SoCo you are clearly vulnerable the liberal progressive Democratic Left. The point is anything you do in life places one into vulnerable situations and that if you enter into those situations/environments it’s you’re responsibility to know how to negotiate in that environment. If someone yells at you you may be doing something wrong or just move away. I don’t ride on bikes because it’s too dangerous and thus not enjoyable. I don’t trust drivers even when I’m driving. Look out for the other guy! If Levine and bike people think that you will get special protection and the roads will be safer each time you ride you betting your life on it! This bill will further create a false sense of trust and safety and more accidents and deaths will occur. I see it all the time especially with older riders and young parents who drag their young baby behind in a cart! If Levine and advocates want more safety the bicyclists need to be subject to same rules of the road including licensing, insurance and license plates. Unfortunately, I suspect we’ll see more bike/car tragedies in the future.
    I for one will continue to be an aware driver observing the other guy wherever and whatever they are on the road. Be safe and not stupid.

  3. MendoTech says:

    How about something useful to the average motorist: Higher fines, impounds, and jail terms for people who are driving without a license and insurance??

  4. Papa ESoCo says:

    I have an idea. Sonoma County fixes the roads and highways (OK, stop laughing). As they upgrade, they widen roads to accommodate a designated bike lane, complete with double yellow lines so cyclists and motorists cannot cross the double yellow. This would be easy on a lot of County roads; as for the back country roads pick the most popular with cyclists and add the aforementioned designated bike lane. Cyclists can ride abreast, as long as they do not cross the double yellow; motorists would not be held up (and irritated) waiting for a safe place to pass. Seems to me a Win-Win. Now the hard part; getting the County to fix the damn roads.

  5. bear says:

    Has it occurred to any of you that bicyclists pay taxes, too? And are entitled to use of YOUR roads under State law? And are required to follow the rules of the road?

    Do you WANT to run over cyclists, or deny them their rights which are equal to yours?

    Or maybe you should pay the taxes to create safe lanes and paths for bicycles?

    Yeah, I know you expect perfect roads for YOU, but not others. But you won’t pay, which makes you freeloaders at the expense of others.

  6. Grapevines says:

    Hey, while we’re at it, lets up the fine for “PEEKING!”

    And instead of basing it on the rate of inflation, or price of oil, lets base it on the amount of time that the defendant manages to draw the legal process out prior to conclusion.

    Lets see, 2 months after 1st court date, normal sentence.
    3 months, double sentence.
    4 to 6 months, triple sentence
    6+ months, quadruple sentence plus ridden out of town on a rail after being tarred and feathered.

    Now who should the first candidate be to apply this to?

  7. Phil Maher says:

    Of course, because I was so inclined to run down cyclists when it only cost me $100.

  8. Francis says:

    I am a vulnerable road user. I have to drive on roads with other very bad drivers cutting me off, tailgating, speeding. In addition, we have the spandex crowd riding two and three abreast on streets, running stop signs and I am suppose to not go near them or they will have a ticket issued to me and God help me if I said anything to one of these sacred cows.

    All the while members of the state legislature violate ethics laws and nothing happens. Yup, it all fair in love and driving.

  9. dbaker says:

    “Levine’s bill makes it clear that driving a vehicle is a privilege, that cyclists have a right to be on the road and that there are consequences for carelessness,” said Shaun Ralston

    So the roads are only available as a “privilege” to the motorists who utilize them in their daily pursuit of economic productivity? Privileges are subject to the continued approval and permission of an authority who has a legitimate right over a property or person. Those who seek permission are subject to the terms stipulated.

    Driving is a privilege that can be taken away. If you’re 16 years old and your parents decide that you’re a liability, for whatever reason, they have every right to forbid your use of a car and to withhold their signature from any DMV papers. Minors can’t be sued for damages they cause. The financial responsibility is the burden of the parents.

    The circumstances that exist in the scenario above, only exist in that situation. Parents must trust their children to represent them honorably and it is in their interest to instill in their kids respect for the liberty and property of others.

    The roads are public and it is the right of all free people to use them as we wish. Only one stipulation exists to govern our use of OUR roads and it is the same for all of us. You are free to enjoy the right to travel, to pursue your interests, and your fortunes, so long as you respect the rights of those you encounter along your way. If, by chance, you find yourself in a dispute over who was at fault in an accident, it’s only a matter of going through the civil courts and if need be letting a jury decide what’s fair. I don’t require the permission of any man on Earth to exercise my right to exist.

    In this union of free states it is “we the people” who enjoy the title of sovereign. Each man and woman a king or queen in their own right. Subject to nature’s law, slave to reason, and governed by their own moral compass.

    If you like to ride your bike on roads that were designed to have two opposing lanes of motorists traveling at highway speeds with little or no shoulder to keep you out of the lanes of traffic, you are an idiot. If I have to pass you by riding the double yellow and playing chicken with semi trucks, you shouldn’t be there.

    If it’s your right to endanger thousands of lives in order to ride your bike, why not ride on the train tracks? What about the freeways? Picture this for me. Next time you have to be somewhere (like work) get on your bike and ride behind mobs of pedestrians. You know, the ones who will walk into the bumper of your car, while it’s going 45 as if they were incapable of processing the potential danger that could result from being bounced off of a couple thousand pounds of fast moving metal. Then ask yourself. Can I, in good conscience, really risk my own life and the lives of others all to avoid hitting the one dingleberry that shouldn’t even be there?

    Which way would you swerve on your bike? Towards the oncoming cars which will likely kill you and others, or into the soft pedestrians who don’t know what planet they’re on anyway?

    Since this thing is longer than most will read anyway, some advice. Spandex is so awesome!! I just really respect you guys so much. I mean spending thousands of dollars, playing dress up, and absolutely idolizing your favorite drug taking, no integrity having, lying, sell out punk, pro athlete, corporate shill. Buying anything pink and sporting it with fake self righteousness. As if buying consumer products made in china by slaves is ever going to cure cancer. If you believe that buying NIKE soccer balls painted pink will do anything for the women suffering with breast cancer, I’ve got a yellow rubber band I’ll sell you for a buck.

  10. Steveguy says:

    Another one bought by the Lawyers and the Judicial Fleecing Complex. With ” Court Fees ” that they voted in that $1,000 turns into over $2,000 real quick. Audit the beneficiaries of that money and maybe some real reporting can happen.

    Make it $5,000 for jaywalking and soak them. Make it $10,000 for looking at someone funny.

    When will the corruptness end ? Ever ?

  11. Papa ESoCo says:

    Score another Win for the Bicycle supporters. Pretty soon we will have to “follow at a safe distance” while they ride 3 and 4 abreast on our narrow, winding country roads; then, a one hundred foot “no motor vehicle zone” around bicyclists. Hey Levine, you do know that although very vocal, cyclists are a very small percentage of the “voting population”, don’t you?