HARRISBURG — Legislation that passed the state House would call for stiffer penalties for careless driving that injures “vulnerable” highway users, like pedestrians, bicyclists and those riding in horse-and-buggies.
“Pennsylvania’s highways have a high percentage of users who are not riding in vehicles that serve as steel cages with air bags and seat belts,” said state Rep. Brett Miller, a Republican from Lancaster County, the author of the legislation. “We’ve all seen reports of the horrific tragedies that can result when these people are hit by a careless driver who is operating what is essentially a 4,000-pound projectile.”
House Bill 1536 passed by a vote of 191-4. Under the proposal, a motorist convicted of careless driving that resulted in the death of a vulnerable highway user would face a one-year driver’s license suspension and up to $5,000 in fines. A motorist convicted of careless driving that seriously injured a vulnerable highway user would face a six-month license suspension and up to $2,500 in fines.
The legislation was inspired by the suggestion of a constituent who is a bicycle rider, Miller said. But, as a lawmaker in Lancaster County, Miller said he also appreciates the need to better protect members of the Amish community who travel by horse-and-buggy.
There were 65 crashes in 2018 reported to police involving those traveling by horse-and-buggy in Pennsylvania, said Alexis Campbell, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman. Those crashes included two fatalities — one occupant of a horse-and-buggy and one motorcyclist who collided with a horse-and-buggy, she said.
Similar bills have been passed in at least a dozen states in recent years, though who’s considered a vulnerable user “varies widely depending on the state,” according to the National Center for State Courts.
For instance, Hawaii’s vulnerable highway user bill doesn’t include those riding animals. Delaware, Utah, Oregon and Washington include those traveling in farm vehicles.
Miller’s legislation originally included those traveling in farm vehicles, he said. Those traveling in farm vehicles were removed from the legislation, largely due to the difficulty in determining how to define what kind of farm vehicles should be included, he said. Some farm vehicles are so large that if there was a collision with a passenger car, the driver in the car would be the vulnerable highway user, he said.
There were 88 crashes involving farm vehicles, including eight fatalities in 2018, Campbell said.
Miller said if someone could figure out a way to amend the legislation to include farm vehicles, he’d be open to the change.
There is no other specific protection in traffic law that calls for increased penalties for careless driving that harms someone traveling on farm equipment, said Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. But he said the farm bureau hasn’t been involved in lobbying in support of Miller’s legislation, O’Neill said.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.