First, the good news. Two nights ago, the City of Brookhaven, Georgia (where I featured a People for Bikes’ self-guided bike tour recently — see “The Model Mile” while Traveling at the Speed of Bike), just became the second city in the southeastern United States (after mine) to adopt a Vulnerable Road User ordinance. That’s big. That means the additional prosecutorial options provided by such charges may start sweeping the state and country so that, coupled with improved infrastructure, maybe we’ll start to see a drop in ghost bikes.
As the survivor of the first driver charged in a Vulnerable Road User violation in the southeastern United States (as a result of the evidence on the body camera I was wearing at the time of the assault), however, I feel a responsibility to let you know what kind of teeth that ordinance does or does not have. As I wait for definitive answers regarding what my hit-and-run assailant pleaded yesterday in the City of Dunwoody Municipal Court (I was told by the city that I could not attend), I thought I’d share with you a couple of things.
I didn’t tell you yet that I discovered my body camera was running not only when I survived the hit-and-run but immediately afterwards while waiting for the police and paramedics when these two witnesses came running over. Here is what they told me (followed by footage of the hit, and then slow motion footage of the point-of-contact):
Click here for the six-second video I recorded less than five minutes before the hit-and-run, as requested by the statewide bike advocacy group Georgia Bikes and City of Dunwoody Councilor Joe Seconder for a class on which they are working to help those driving motor vehicles be more careful around bike riders.
I also have twelve minutes of body camera footage from before I stopped to film the above message to motor vehicle drivers. You can see me stop at stop signs, signal when turning, and otherwise follow rules of the road flawlessly. The City of Brookhaven has eliminated what they call the “victim blaming” aspects in the Dunwoody Vulnerable Road User ordinance. None of that would have applied to me in a court of law.
So my lawyer and I talked this through.
If the driver pleaded not guilty, she could have requested the case bind over to the county for trial. Since the county does not have a Vulnerable Road User ordinance, they most likely would have disregarded it (hence, it has no teeth until it’s statewide). The journey to trial (especially during COVID) could have been tied up for years, and it would have impacted my legal clearance for the Peace Corps (for which I am still scheduled to go, after being delayed due to the pandemic).
Having a guilty charge to that offense is important to me because it is the very first Vulnerable Road User ordinance violation in the southeastern United States and I want it noted in case it helps future victims who may not have been as lucky as I was. Maybe it might even be helpful if citizens ever want to mount a class action suit against their cities for perpetually failing to provide access that meets NACTO guidelines (which my city is about to do, yet again, on the very road where I was almost killed). From what I was told, the state 3-feet-to-pass violation and the hit-and-run violation were going to be dropped and the driver was, indeed, going to plead guilty to the Vulnerable Road User ordinance violation.
That charge, however, is easily removed (due to how the ordinance was written) if the driver simply takes a driver safety course (possibly even the one for which I filmed the above segment right before she almost killed me — ain’t that a kick), so at the end of the day, the driver from the videos above ends up with no charges. The only record of it may be here (in addition to previous media coverage), which is why I am posting this.
I did at least request that the driver make a $500 donation to Georgia Bikes, so we’ll see if that happens. And I hear there may be a letter of apology to be shared with the community (note: I have received no apology in three months). If so, I will share it with you here on Traveling at the Speed of Bike.
Plus, there is a civil case, not only to reclaim my medical expenses but more importantly because you’re simply not allowed to hit a human being with your three-ton vehicle and not stop. Allowing that without consequence would be a bad precedent to set for the community.
UPDATE: On Saturday, October 17, a motor vehicle driver in the City of Dunwoody, Georgia, USA hit a 12-year-old girl who was riding her bike, knocking her down and injuring her. There were no witnesses and the child was not able to get the license plate number. The driver was therefore not charged for the Vulnerable Road User ordinance and state 3–feet-to-pass law violations.