This recently happened in Wellesley, MA. I was informed of the story today by
Local bicycle advocates in Wellesley are disturbed by the lack of charges and suggest there is a theme that most people don't like bikers and most people would side with a driver over a biker. According to an article in the Boton Globe, local advocates had the following to say: "The grand jury’s decision, bicyclists contend, is evidence of a wider problem: Most people do not respect the rights of bike riders." “The message that we got from this particular case, is that, clearly, members of the general public still don’t care enough about bicyclists’ safety.” "Stereotypes about careless or foolhardy bicyclists, leak into the criminal process." “It’s really an example of how people have it in their heads that bikers are reckless to ride in the street." “It’s definitely the sort of thing where people who ride bikes want to see jail time or to see some sort of criminal charges that stick,” “When people don’t see that, a lot of people get the sense that the government doesn’t really care.” "The problem, bike advocates say, is that most people, and most jurors, just don’t like bikes." "Jurors are much more likely to empathize with motorists than with bicyclists."
Will we see this type of behavior in Wisconsin? The Wisconsin Bike Fed is seeking to pass a vulnerable user law imposing criminal penalties on drivers who injure or kill Wisconsin bicyclists under certain circumstances. Here in Wisconsin, we do not have a grand jury for State cases. If the vulnerable user law passes, it will be up to a d.a. or assistant d.a. to decide whether or not to file criminal charges against a driver who injures or kills a biker. While I make no comment on the above MA case, I do find it very surprising that local d.a.'s in Wisconsin have repeatedly refused to bring criminal charges against motor vehicle drivers who fall asleep or otherwise recklessly kill bikers here in Wisconsin. The common response of, "Well, we don't think we could prove that beyond a reasonable doubt," seems incongruent considering the multitude of weak charges brought in state courts constantly for less serious offenses/ where no one has lost their life. In particular, the fact that people in Wisconsin are prosecuted on a daily basis for non-violent offenses makes me wonder why a d.a. would not at least want to "take a shot" at convicting a driver who kills a biker and admits something like falling asleep beyond the wheel. Or in the very least, charge the driver and the case will likely get plead down to something else as is often the case in criminal matters. I am not a d.a. and have no idea of the ethics or other rules involved in charging someone; however, I have personally seen very large amounts of time wasted on what I consider "victimless" cases with weak evidence at best.
Only time will tell if Wisconsin passes a vulnerable user law and what affect if any it has upon the charging decisions of state prosecutors.
For an interesting read on why drivers may hate bicyclists, click here. One theory is that people tend to punish others for unfairness and drivers may get angry at the unfairness of a bicyclist riding through a stop sign with seemingly no penalty when the driver feels that if he or she ran a stop, he or she would get in trouble.