"If you want to kill somebody and get away with it, you should do it with your car," said bike lawyer Ray Thomas last month, discussing the tragic cyclist and pedestrian deaths that shook Portland this fall. This isn't just a Portland problem. Seattlites tried to strengthen their laws relating to death and injury caused from cars, instituting a city-wide rule that said if a driver commits an infraction that winds up causing grave bodily harm or death, it’s a misdemeanor assault.
But last week, Seattle blog Crosscut posted a rundown on how judges overturned that local law this summer, returning Seattle to a city (like Portland) where you can break a law while driving, kill someone and not automatically be charged with any crime.
In the case of a man who accidentally left-hooked and killed a cyclist, the appeals court ruled "that 'any act' that constitutes a traffic violation may not be classified as a crime based solely on the result — a serious injury or death."
David Hiller, Advocacy Director the Cascade Bicycling Club (Seattle's equivalent of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance), is irate. “Killing a child in a crosswalk while speeding and texting, that’s okay. But if your neighbor’s dog got out of its yard and mauled and killed your child, they would automatically be a criminally liable,” says Hiller.
Hiller's group launched an investigation to see how Seattle was dealing with deadly drivers. The results are astounding: in the 77 cases of car drivers who committed an infraction that wound up killing or injuring a pedestrian or cyclist in King County in 2007, there were zero felony prosecutions. “There’s something wrong with those laws,” says Hiller.