A California state appeals court ruled last week that “reckless driving” can be applied to people on bicycles who kill or injure others, just as it’s applied to people driving, as the SF Chronicle reported. No one, including bicycle advocates, seems to dispute that full accountability should be brought to anyone who commit acts of traffic violence — but the reality is, drivers who maim and kill rarely ever face penalties.
There are countless such examples. One of the most egregious is the case of 29-year-old Kieran Brewer, who killed 17-year-old Hanren Chang in a crosswalk on Sloat Boulevard while he drove drunk, and was sentenced to just six months in prison. Or consider Gilberto Alcantar, who will face no charges for illegally turning his truck across a bike lane and killing 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac at Sixth and Folsom Streets. SF District Attorney George Gascón claims that despite video of the crash, prosecutors can’t make an adequate case to file charges.
“Prosecution of deadly traffic crashes needs to be investigated, and prosecuted, to the fullest extent in order to reflect the severity of traffic crimes,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “We also need to ensure fair and equal enforcement across modes, which historically had not happened.”
As the Center for Investigative Reporting reported last year, 60 percent of the 238 motorists “found to be at fault or suspected of a crime faced no criminal charges” between 2006 and 2011 in five Bay Area counties:
When drivers did face criminal charges, punishment often was light. Licenses rarely were taken away. Of those charged, less than 60 percent had their driving privileges suspended or revoked for even one day, an automatic penalty in drunk driving arrests.
Forty percent of those convicted faced no more than a day in jail; 13 drivers were jailed for more than a year. By contrast, those charged in accidental shootings often serve lengthy jail terms, according to media reports.
In that CIR report, DA Gascón acknowledged that “if we had 700 people being shot every year, we would be jumping up and down. Reckless driving is just as bad as people using a firearm recklessly.”
Gascón repeated a similar refrain in the Chronicle’s article this week, which reported on a state appeals court ruling that a man who was bicycling while drunk in Los Angeles could be charged with reckless driving after he crashed into a woman, hospitalizing her and putting her in a coma. Gascón told the Chronicle, “The rules of the road should apply to everyone, and are set up to avoid exactly the type of injury that occurred in this (Los Angeles) case. Far too many people are getting seriously injured or killed on our streets.”
While drunk drivers in SF have often been prosecuted for killing and injuring pedestrians, they often get off light — as we saw in the case of Brewer crashing into Chang.
But more to the point, SF’s district attorney continues to claim that traffic violence is prosecuted using consistent and equal standards. He would apparently have San Franciscans believe that all of the roughly two dozen drivers who kill pedestrians each year in the city are held to the same scrutiny that Gascón applied to bicyclist Chris Bucchere.
“Law enforcement professionals across the state need to be part of the solution, as we work to shift the culture towards a fair systems that treats all traffic crimes as crimes,” said Schneider.