EDITORIAL: Penalize careless drivers who injure or kill

Protect motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists with some kind of deterrent or penalty

What’s the price of a life?

Ask the family of David “Creto” Sherry, a 57-year-old father of two, who was struck and killed by a distracted driver while riding his motorcycle in Guilderland in 2014.

Or ask the family of Kade O’Brien, a 25-year-old former Marine who had survived two tours of duty in the Middle East, who died in 2011 while riding his motorcycle in Pittsford, near Rochester — also by a driver that didn’t yield the right of way.

Ask the families of any of the motorcyclists and pedestrians and bicyclists who, through no fault of their own, were killed or seriously hurt because a person operating a car didn’t bother to stop at a stop sign, or didn’t look while making a left turn in traffic, or who kept driving through a crosswalk while someone was in it.

In New York state, the price of that life might be $30. Or $50. Or nothing.

When a motorist injures or kills a pedestrian or motorcyclist or bicyclist, and there are no other extenuating circumstances such as the driver being under the influence of alcohol or driving with a revoked or suspended license, the most a driver can be cited for in most cases is a basic moving violation.

That’s just not right.

There should be some penalty involved, some kind of deterrent, in state traffic law that might encourage more drivers to pay attention and to respect road signs and crosswalks and to follow basic rules for yielding the right of way to oncoming vehicles.

That’s the thought behind Creto/Kade’s Law (A5407/S2509), which would make the penalty for a moving violation that results in the serious bodily injury or death a misdemeanor. It would set a minimum fine of $300 and a maximum jail sentence of 30 days, as well as require the guilty driver to complete a motor vehicle accident prevention course.

Similar efforts have been tried in the past, with stiffer penalties proposed to mirror the penalties imposed in states like Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

It’s easy to understand why lawmakers would want to be lenient in such cases. Many of us aren’t perfect drivers. Many of us have at times not come to a complete stop at a crosswalk or slowed enough at a yield sign. Many of us have made a quick left turn across traffic without pausing long enough to check for someone who might be in our path. 

But sympathy for a driver shouldn’t override the need to protect a vulnerable pedestrian or cyclist or motorcyclist.

And while no dollar amount can compensate a family for the loss of a loved one in these circumstances, there should at least be a minimum penalty for the offending driver beyond a simple traffic ticket and a guilty conscience.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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