Amish

A member of the Amish community drives a horse-drawn buggy along Route 30 in Ronks on Sept. 18, 2019.

THE ISSUE

State House Bill 1536, sponsored by Republican Rep. Brett Miller of East Hempfield Township, “would increase financial penalties for those whose careless driving causes harm to particularly ‘vulnerable’ populations like pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users and horse and buggy passengers,” LNP’s Gillian McGoldrick reported Tuesday. The bill was unanimously voted out of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee on Monday. Now it moves to the full House.

We support this legislation from one of our Lancaster County state representatives and hope it can get across the General Assembly finish line this time. (It was introduced in the last legislative session but didn’t make it through the state Senate.)

Safer roads should be a priority for all of us. And by safer roads we mean safer for not just vehicles, but for pedestrians, bicyclists and horse and buggies. The roads belong equally to all groups.

It’s part of the fabric of our county that we accept our Amish neighbors and their preferred modes of transportation. And also the growing number of us who choose to ride bicycles.

There are many ways to make roads safer for all: road design and construction, traffic lights and signs, policing the streets, robust driver education, etc.

Intertwined with these are our traffic laws. They lay out the rules of the roads — and the consequences of breaking those rules. Awareness of those penalties serves to get more people to obey the traffic laws, and thus keep more people safe.

And so Miller believes one of our laws is due for an adjustment, with language that expands it and stiffens the penalties for breaking it. We concur.

Grim statistics on traffic accidents help to prove the need for the updated law, too. “The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation showed 31 horse and buggy/vehicle crashes, 155 crashes involving pedestrians and 48 crashes involving bicycles in Lancaster County in 2018,” McGoldrick wrote. “Of those crashes, there were no fatalities in the horse and buggy incidents. (But) eight pedestrians were killed and two bicyclists were killed.”

If an updated law can improve those numbers and increase our safety, it should be a commonsense adjustment.

Specifically, Miller wants to offer greater protection for all who fall under the term “Vulnerable Highway User.” State House Bill 1536 would create greater protections for pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users and horse and buggy passengers. It would do this by increasing the penalties “for a person convicted of reckless or careless driving that results in either the death, serious bodily injury, or bodily injury of a Vulnerable Highway User,” according to the legislation’s memorandum.

Miller hopes the updated law can “provide a greater degree of deterrence” to safeguard those who aren’t protected by metal car frames, air bags, seat belts and other standard motor vehicle safety technology.

How it would work is fairly simple. State law currently calls for a 4-foot buffer only when passing bicyclists. Miller’s legislation calls for the 4-foot buffer to be observed for all vulnerable highway users.

And the consequences for failing to observe the buffer would be toughened. “The potential penalty can be a hefty fine, plus suspension of a driver’s license, depending on the severity of the incident,” McGoldrick reported. “While Miller’s bill initially had fines set to no more than $5,000 for a death involving a vulnerable highway user, an amendment ... (has) changed the language to ‘not less than $500,’ giving the courts the opportunity to set the fine.”

We would hope that passage of this bill would raise awareness of the buffer and the penalties for not observing it.

Of course, in a perfect world, Miller’s legislation wouldn’t be necessary. But we’re nowhere near there yet. We’ve written numerous editorials over the past year urging drivers to slow down, adjust their mindset behind the wheel, and avoid distractions. We must lower the temperature of the traffic on our roads. It’s still too hot.

Adriana Atencio, the chair of the nonprofit group Lancaster Bikes, told McGoldrick that she’s seen firsthand how terrifying our roads can be for a bicyclist.

“I’ve been given the finger. People are incredibly rude because I slowed their commute down by 18 seconds,” Atencio said. “(And) half the time it’s people passing me and then they get to a red light.”

To most of us who drive regularly, that’s an unfortunately familiar scene. We should be setting more positive examples on our roads, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable.

And so we support state House Bill 1536. And we appreciate Miller continuing to push for it.

“Most people driving down the road, if they see a police officer, they will slow down,” Miller told McGoldrick. “If a person knows of a potential penalty (for other vulnerable highway users), the hope is that it would cause a person to take that extra step of care.”

That’s our hope, too.