BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill designed to decrease roadway crashes by increasing penalties for careless drivers has passed through a committee at the State Capitol.
The Vulnerable Road User bill heads to the Senate floor after passing the Senate Committee on Judiciary Tuesday.
SB 171, sponsored by Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, seeks to make it a crime if a driver hits any public road user causing them any level of injury.
A public roadway user, according to the bill, is defined as anyone who is utilizing the roadway outside of a motor vehicle. That includes, but is not limited to, pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, person using a mobility device, motorcycle or scooter, wheelchair, etc.
A driver who is found guilty of such an offense causing injury could face any or all of the increased penalties such as a suspended driver's license for up to one year, a fine for no more than $2,000, imprisonment for no more than 90 days, an order to complete a court-approved motor vehicle accident prevention program, and no more than 200 community service hours.
In those cases where the non-motorist victim dies, the penalties additionally include a prison sentence of no more than five years and a fine no more than $5,000, or both.
"In August of 2015, the Center for Disease Control released a report that ranks Louisiana third in the nation for bicyclist deaths per capita. A total of 15% of Louisiana traffic fatalities take the life of a pedestrian, bicyclist or other Vulnerable Road User," said Mika Torkkola, a representative of the non-profit organization Bike Baton Rouge. "It is not uncommon for drivers who are involved in serious crashes that kill or maim pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists to escape prosecution entirely. In only the most egregious cases are punishments that are proportional to the devastation that a motor vehicle crash can cause handed down."
This is the second time Smith has presented this legislation. The bill also made it out of committee several years ago, but eventually failed to secure the required votes.