Oakland councilwoman presents aggressive driver law

A man rides his bicycle during sunny weather in Wolfsburg, Germany, Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

March 25, 2014 9:38:59 PM PDT
Saying that too many bicyclists and pedestrians are getting injured, Oakland City Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said today that she would present an ordinance at a committee meeting tonight that aims to better protect them.

Speaking at a news conference on the steps of City Hall, Schaaf said a recently-completed study shows that 184 Oakland pedestrians and bicyclists were killed and 9,072 were injured in auto collisions from 1992 through 2011.

The study says most of those who were killed were pedestrians, as 167 pedestrians were killed and 17 bicyclists were killed.

Schaaf said tougher sanctions against aggressive and careless drivers are needed because, "This too much harm for our city to be bearing."

She said, "We need to do more to make our streets safe."

Joining Schaaf at the news conference, Christopher Kidd of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, which helped the city conduct the study, said the ordinance being introduced by Schaaf at the Public Safety Committee is needed because it would provide another tool to punish drivers who act aggressively toward bicyclists and pedestrians.

Kidd said it's difficult to prosecute aggressive drivers in the criminal courts because it's hard to gather clear and convincing evidence against them.

He said the ordinance would provide a way for bicyclists and pedestrians who are harmed to seek civil remedies against aggressive drivers.

Schaaf said the law would allow victims to seek civil remedies of at least $1,000 as well as reasonable attorney and litigation fees, or triple the damages, whichever is greater, for each incident.

She said the ordinance wouldn't create any new criminal infraction, misdemeanor or felony law in Oakland and wouldn't encumber the city with any implementation or prosecutorial responsibilities.

Deputy City Attorney Pelayo Llamas said victims who pursue civil remedies could win their cases by a preponderance of evidence, which is an easier standard than proving a case in criminal court beyond reasonable doubt.

Schaaf said it's important to sanction aggressive motorists because Oakland now has more bicyclists and bike lanes so "conflict is inevitable."

Kidd said aggressive drivers have harassed and battered him, knocked him to the ground and tried to run him off the road.

Kidd said, "When a driver chooses to use their vehicle to harass or assault a more vulnerable person on the road, they are using a deadly weapon. Our community does not accept that kind of behavior with other deadly weapons and we shouldn't accept that type of behavior from people behind the wheel of a car."

If the committee approves the ordinance at tonight's meeting, it will go to the full city council for final approval next Tuesday.

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