New Bill to Convict Drivers for Pedestrian Fatalities

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What would you think if more than half of the drunk drivers who were found at fault for injuring or killing a pedestrian weren’t prosecuted and didn’t even have their licenses revoked? Our culture generally has little tolerance for drunk driving. Drunk drivers can be fined and have their licenses suspended in California, even if they aren’t over the legal limit, according to the California  DMV .

Pedestrian fatalities and injuries caused by drunk drivers, have serious consequences, such as jail time and extended revocation of licenses. Accidental pedestrian fatalities and injuries caused by sober drivers, however, are given different consideration and prosecuted rarely, with much lighter consequences, as KQED reported  last month.

The report said that in the Bay Area’s five largest counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco) among 238 motorists who were at fault or suspected to be at fault for a pedestrian death within a five-year period (from 2007 to 2011), 60 percent did not face charges in that period.

KQED reported that one of the reasons for light or no sentences is that jurors tend to put themselves in the shoes of the driver, rather than the pedestrian. Drivers who accidentally kill or injure pedestrians often cite common reasons, such as the blinding reflection of the sun–familiar factors that many drivers have experienced. Of the 85 drivers who were actually convicted for pedestrian fatalities, only 40 percent had to serve a one-day jail sentence, and a total of just 13 drivers were jailed for more than a year.

In San Francisco, more than 700 pedestrians are injured each year, according to the  report  by KQED.  The penalties have been lenient thus far, but  Bill AB 840 , spearheaded by San Francisco’s state assemblyman, Tom Ammiano, would make it easier for prosecutors to prove fault in court. The bill would require new and renewing drivers to acknowledge that they’re aware of the dangers of distracted driving, including pedestrian fatalities and injuries.

It’s terrifying to imagine hurting a person while you’re behind the wheel. The mental agony of taking someone’s life, coupled with the family’s grieving, and potential new legal penalties are not worth the seconds one might save while continuing to drive under dangerous conditions.

No one intends to accidentally hurt a pedestrian. In KQED’s report, one of the drivers found to be at fault was a mom who was focused on comforting her children in the back seat. What are some of the external factors that might distract you from driving safely? Consider taking a defensive driving course  to learn how to mitigate the common dangers on the road, and please pull over if you’re having to deal with any potentially distracting issues, such as a crying child, a heated discussion with your passenger, or road conditions that make it hard to see or steer.