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The passage of a new bicycle law in Maryland has created steeper fines and harsher penalties for motorists who injure or kill cyclists.
Now, the maximum penalty for criminally negligent drivers is $5,000 a manslaughter charge, and up to three years in jail. Previously, the maximum penalty was a trip to traffic court and a fine of $300.
The new bicycle law (House Bill 363) comes at a time of high-profile bicycle accident cases. In one, a cyclist is still in a coma after being hit by an 83-year-old driver. The driver received two traffic citations. In another, a cyclist died after being run over. The driver was punished by getting 3 points on her license and was required to pay a fine. In another case, a State Highway Administrator was struck and killed by a motorist. They received a $280 fine and three points against their license.
"The passage of HB363 is extremely important in making Maryland's roads safer and our judicial system more equitable," Carol Silldorff of the Baltimore Bicycle Club, told Bike Radar.
Many cyclists had felt that the previous statutes simply weren't doing enough to protect them. "I'm sorry, I mean, you can pay more than that if you park illegally in Baltimore City and get towed. What is the comparison here?" Penny Troutner, a bicyclist, told WBAL-TV.
While the new laws will take a while to permeate into the consciousness of Maryland drivers, many still hope that it will make a change. The hope seems to be that if there are stiffer penalties, drivers will be more aware of cyclists, reports CBS News.
Around 20 states have bicycle laws that impose similar penalties, reports Bike Radar. The increase in penalties against drivers can mean a safer environment for bicyclists. Many cyclists in other states that still have relatively soft penalties for negligent drivers have been pushing for similar legislation in their state.
Generally, convictions under bicycle laws will take into account both the driver's negligence or recklessness in the situation as well as the cyclist's negligence. The cyclist could contribute to the accident by swerving into traffic, or by biking in the wrong direction.