Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN) — the man whose passion for Safe Routes to Schools helped establish it as a national priority in America — is now throwing his energy behind a new idea. And, as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that will be writing the new transportation bill, Oberstar’s ideas have real potential to turn into policy.
Today at the National Bike Summit in Washington D.C., Oberstar will meet with the country’s top bike lawyers to discuss the potential of a new legislative initiative to draft the country’s first piece of legal policy that would directly relate to the respect and recognition of bicycles as users of our roadways.
According to Portland bike lawyer Ray Thomas, he was one of a handful of legal minds tapped by the League of American Bicyclist’s Advocacy Director Walter Finch to meet with Oberstar to discuss the idea.
Thomas, along with Portland lawyer (and author of Bicycling and the Law) Bob Mionske, well-known cycling lawyer Gary Brustin, and others will be asked for their insights on how to best move forward with this initiative (unfortunately, both Mionske and Thomas were unable to make it to the Summit, but I have heard that BTA Executive Director Scott Bricker might represent them at the meeting).
Thomas describes the initiative as a way to create a federal law to ensure equitable treatment of people on bicycles who are involved in crashes. Too often, he says, drivers do not receive serious charges in collision cases. The way the system is set up now, police officers and prosecutors (for a variety of reasons) will often not even attempt to press serious charges against motorists.
Oberstar wants to fix the system so there’s a better chance that justice will be done.
League of American Bicyclists Executive Director Andy Clarke told me this morning that the initiative could result in language being put into the transportation bill that would give more “legal standing to bicycles as a mode of transportation”. Clarke mentioned the precedents of federal regulations about how states must comply with blood-alcohol level and seat belt usage laws.
This conversation is only in its infancy, but with Oberstar at the wheel this is definitely worth paying attention to.