What should the penalty be when drivers hit bicyclists, pedestrians, or other vulnerable road users? The Colorado legislature recently passed a law increasing the penalty, making bicycle accidents a bigger deal for the drivers who find themselves facing careless driving charges.
In this blog post I will discuss Senate Bill 175 which increases the penalty for careless driving when the accident includes a vulnerable road user like a bicyclist. I will explain the consequences under the new law and possible defenses that you can use to protect your license after a crash.
Bicycle Accidents Result in Careless Driving Charges for Colorado Drivers
The roads in Colorado’s cities and suburbs can be dangerous places for cyclists. Congested intersections and unclear markings between bike lanes and shared driving spaces put bikes and cars together everyday. When drivers hit bicyclists, it is seldom on purpose. Instead, it is often the result of unclear rules on the road or unpredictable bicycle movements.
Still, bicycle accidents can cause serious injuries. As a result, when drivers hit bicyclists they often find themselves facing careless driving charges. This charge applies any time a person drives a motor vehicle, motor-bike, or scooter “in a careless or imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, or use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances.” In other words, careless driving could apply any time something unfortunate happened on the road.
Colorado Increases Penalty When Drivers Hit Bicyclists
Until recently, careless driving was a Class 2 traffic misdemeanor. That meant drivers convicted of these charges were required to pay a fine and received one point on their Colorado driver’s licenses. The victims of bicycle accidents were entitled to pursue separate personal injury lawsuits to recover for the harm done by a driver.
But Colorado lawmakers recently decided that wasn’t enough. They overwhelmingly passed a law, Senate Bill 175, which increases the penalty when drivers hit bikers, pedestrians, or other vulnerable road users. This form of careless driving is now a Class 1 traffic misdemeanor and carries a penalty of 10 days to 12 months in jail and a fine of $300 – $1,000 dollars. The law also allows criminal court judges to order defendants to attend a driver improvement course and perform useful public service. The court can also order that the driver pay restitution to the person he or she hit. This is on top of issuing 12 points to the defendant’s Colorado driver’s license, suspending it for up to one year.
Increased Penalties Designed to Stop Repeat Offenders
The reasons behind the law were stories of repeat offenders with terrible driving records who were allowed back on the road under the old system. Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon) who sponsored the bill, said he would see repeat careless drivers all the time in his work as a deputy district attorney in the 5th Judicial District Court.
However, the new law does not reflect this motivation. The Colorado legislature could have made second or third offenses have a higher penalty than the first. They have done this in other areas of the Colorado criminal code. But they didn’t. That means even a first-time traffic accident could land a driver in jail, just because the person they hit happened to be using a bicycle rather than a car.
Defending Against Careless Driving Charges
Now that careless driving causing serious bodily injury to a vulnerable road user carries a jail sentence, it is even more important for drivers to defend themselves against these charges. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help investigate your case and build a defense to keep a bicycle accident from changing your life and your livelihood. Depending on the circumstances, that could mean showing:
- You weren’t driving the vehicle at all
- The person you hit did not qualify as a vulnerable road user
- The person you hit wasn’t seriously injured
- The cyclist or pedestrian’s actions caused the accident (such as swerving into traffic)
- You took all reasonable steps to avoid the accident
- You couldn’t avoid the accident without violating some other, more serious law
There may be additional defenses that emerge as more drivers are charged under the new law. If you have a good driving record, your attorney may also be able to negotiate a plea deal, allowing you to avoid the higher penalties by pleading guilty to a lesser charge (including the original version of careless driving). No matter which way it goes, your attorney will advise you of all the consequences so that you can make an informed choice before standing in front of the judge.
By working with an experienced criminal defense attorney you can develop a strategy that protects you, your freedom, and your license even after a serious bicycle accident. At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience within the Colorado court system. We know that traffic misdemeanors, including careless driving, can change your life. We work hard to get our clients the best solution available to protect them and their interests in criminal court. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.