Advocacy Day Update! Truth and Consequences and Fun.

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Today I’m joining transportation advocates from around the state in Trans4M’s Advocacy Day at the state Capital. And I have to admit… I’m having FUN.

First observation: The House Office Building smells exactly the same as it did 10 years ago, and the sergeants-of-arms are also the same. It’s a little bit uncanny.

Going into these meetings was really interesting. The representatives and their staffs were gracious and attentive, and the meetings were quick and efficient. These are busy people, and I personally appreciated both their willingness to meet with us and their candid assessment of the proposals we were bringing to them. I’d expected a lot more beating around the bush than I thought we got.

Rep. Haveman rejected the vulnerable user legislation – sad – but his reasoning for this was interesting. He spent a great deal of time on the corrections committee, looking at how to reduce incarceration rates across the state. As we know, it’s incredibly expensive to hold someone in jail. It disrupts the flow of their lives (sometimes irreparably), is expensive, and a felony conviction makes it extremely difficult to find employment afterwards. In his perspective, there are two victims in a car-pedestrian crash, so introducing a new felony for something that any of us could do without malicious intent was just a non-starter.

First of all, does that bit – something that any of us could do – sound at all familiar? We talked about this just a couple weeks ago when we discussed mistakes you can’t take back.

So I get where he’s coming from; we have more inmates than college students in Michigan and the social costs probably outweigh even the heavy financial costs. Where I differ with him, however, is in concluding that we ought not to create consequences for additional misbehavior – and I, for one, consider inattentive driving to be misbehavior, even if I know that I could do this as easily as anyone else.

It raises a valuable question, I think. We talked a little bit about broader official responses in the post about mistakes – that in the case of any fatality, a team of safety experts could analyze why the problem happened and then work to remedy the problem. But what’s an appropriate penalty for a driver who injures or kills a pedestrian or person on a bicycle? We do distinguish between manslaughter and murder by statute.

Japan has interesting penalties for people driving who hit people walking. I don’t know all the details, but you’re required to write an official letter of apology and visit the victim in the hospital.

What do you think? Does the Representative’s argument hold water with you? In your opinion, what should the penalties be for a driver who hits a person walking or biking?

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