A new law seeking to protect cyclists and pedestrians from reckless drivers took effect in Connecticut last week.
The Vulnerable User Law, which introduces tougher penalties for serious traffic accidents between drivers and pedestrians, attempts to diminish the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed or injured on the state’s roads. Between 2006 and 2012, there were 10,000 such injuries and deaths.
The law, which was passed this May, is “very simple,” according to State Representative Roland Lamar. The law introduces a one thousand dollar fine to individuals in motorized vehicles who, in acting with improper care and caution, injure or kill a vulnerable user — in other words, pedestrians, highway workers, cyclists, skateboarders and those in wheelchairs, among others.
“Pedestrians and cyclists, those who aren’t on motorized vehicles, are the most vulnerable in road accidents and have the most serious consequences of someone’s careless actions,” said Kirsten Bechtel, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.
Bechtel became involved with traffic safety in 2008, after witnessing the death of two vulnerable users in traffic accidents in New Haven within a span of two months. She joined an action committee that appealed to the city government for improvements in traffic safety laws and has supported the passage of the new Connecticut law.
Increasing road safety has been a focus in Connecticut’s state house for the past five years, Lemar said. The Vulnerable User Law was taken to the Connecticut General Assembly for the last four consecutive years, but failed to pass until this year.
When it was first introduced in 2009, there were concerns over the definition of a vulnerable user, as lawmakers were divided over who would be included in the definition, Lemar said.
Originally, the definition was broad — anyone not in a motorized vehicle. But ultimately, the definition was narrowed. Once lawmakers settled on a definition, however, there were still issues with the bill.
Bechtel said the law was originally written such that violators of the law would have to receive a “driver retraining” after the accident in order to improve their driving. But in order to get the law through both the state house and state senate, Lemar said it had to be “watered down” to only include a fine. Once it was re-written, both houses passed the bill with unanimous support.
“I would have liked to see a broader definition of injury and a driver re-institution course,” Lemar said. “Other states have more advanced laws. This one is pretty basic.”
Kelly Kennedy, executive director of Bike Walk CT, a non profit organization that seeks to make Connecticut a better place to walk and bike, is more positive about the law. Although Kennedy agrees the punishment for violating the law was reduced significantly, she believes the mere passage of the law has sparked important discussions about road safety.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Kennedy said.
Because the bill has just recently come into effect, its impact in Connecticut is yet to be observed. But data from other states that have similar Vulnerable User Laws have shown that it has made drivers in urban areas more careful, Bechtel said.
23 other states currently have some version of a Vulnerable User Law.