We wrote last year about the tragic death of Natasha Pettigrew, a candidate for U.S. Senate who was struck by a sport utility vehicle during an early morning ride on her bike in Prince George’s County last fall. According to news stories at the time, the 30-year-old woman was training for a triathlon when she was killed in an alleged hit-and-run traffic accident in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.
Recently, Pettigrew’s mother, Kenniss Henry, has taken up crusade to make the streets of Maryland, Washington, D.C., and other areas safer for bicycle riders. According to news article, Henry has lobbied the Maryland legislature in Annapolis to try and get a new bill introduced — the Vehicular Manslaughter Act. Along with advocacy groups like Bike Maryland, Henry is reportedly pushing to close a major loophole in Maryland state law.
According to news reports, the current law essentially says that if a flagrantly reckless, yet sober driver causes a traffic death in Maryland, he or she will pay no more than $1,000 in fines through traffic court. The only other option is for the driver to be charged with a felony (however this typically never happens because the standards of proof are so very high).
The new bill, HB 363, would provide for a misdemeanor option. This new option would allow for a person — who has been convicted of causing a traffic fatality while driving in a dangerously reckless manner when sober — to be sentenced to as many as three years in jail or hit with a $5,000 fine. According to news articles, Bike Maryland, Maryland chiefs of police, and the AAA have thrown their support behind this bill.
This a one facet of a larger movement among walking and cycling advocates to make penalties more harsh in cases of vehicular manslaughter. The effort, according to reports, is to help people feel safer when walking or biking on and near public roadways. Safety advocates argue that roads will never be completely safe until motorists understand that there are strict penalties for causing an accident through reckless behavior.
Help Seek Justice for a Change.org Member’s Death, Change.org, February 15, 2011