This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Two years after Henry Dennis was killed by a drunk driver while riding bike on a country road, the man who killed him got 90 days in jail. This follows several recent stories in Wisconsin about light penalties, usually just fines, for drivers who have killed bicyclists.
Dennis was riding his bike, on the paved shoulder of a county highway off the traffic lane, with a flashing headlight and a flashing taillight. The driver admitted that he saw the flashing red taillight. The driver, tested 2 hours after the incident, was above the legal limit.
This one hits me a little closer than usual because I had met Dennis on a couple of occasions. In my first ever Milwaukee area road race, back in 1998, I finished a distant second to him at the Samson Stomp 10K. I talked with him after the race and he just seemed like a great guy to me. In 2005, he volunteered to join Team HillRunner.com for the Madison Jingle Bell Run where he and friend Nick Winkel performed a front running masterpiece to lead the team to victory. I didn’t get to talk with him or Nick for long that day but they both were very gracious in just being willing to join the team and were very humble and gracious in the short talk I did have with them. They didn’t need to be out there trying to run hard in the cold and on snow covered roads but they were because someone Dennis knew asked them to join the team representing a website they had probably never heard of run by a person Dennis probably never recalled meeting.
Something needs to be done. From what I hear, this isn’t just a Wisconsin thing. This is the standard practice in many states. While laws state that pedestrians (including runners) and bicyclists have as much right to the road as motor vehicles, in practice it seems to be accepted that pedestrians and bicyclists are second class citizens. If a motor vehicle kills a pedestrian or bicyclist, it was an accident and the death is just an unfortunate consequence of our modern world.
I know I’m preaching to the choir but this is the wrong way to look at things. We have every right to be out there. We have the responsibility act in a safe manner but drivers of motor vehicles also have the responsibility to share the road and act in a safe manner around us, such as not driving out of the driving lane when they see a flashing light they should know indicates someone is there. In Wisconsin, we have a law that drivers are required to give a 3 foot clearance between their vehicles and pedestrians or bicyclists. This law and others like it are routinely ignored by law enforcement. For public safety, we need these laws enforced and we need people who kill pedestrians and bicyclists to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. 90 days is a disgrace. Cases where the killer gets off with nothing more than a fine are beyond disgraceful.