BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill designed to decrease roadway crashes by increasing penalties for careless drivers cleared a House committee, but with an amendment.
SB 171, known as the Vulnerable Road User bill, sponsored by Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, seeks to create penalties for drivers who hit 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.
Although the bill passed through the Senate without opposition, an amendment was added during its presentation to a House committee.
Prior to the amendment, a driver found guilty 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.
The amendment increased the community service hours to 500.
A reduction of penalty, however, was made to cases in which a death occurs. That penalty included a prison sentence of no more than 5 years, but the amendment dropped the maximum to 2 years.
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."
The bill now heads to the House floor for vote. If passed, it will then return to the Senate due to the amendment.