Cyclists Face Lack of Legal Protection in Crashes

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Today is election day, but one candidate that won’t be on the ballot is Maryland candidate for Senate Natasha Pettigrew. Thirty-year-old Pettigrew, who represented the Green Party, was struck and killed by an SUV while biking on September 20. The driver of the Cadillac Escalade who hit Pettigrew said she thought she had hit a deer or a dog so she didn’t stop and continued driving for four miles until reaching her home. Upon parking the SUV, she saw Pettigrew’s bicycle lodged beneath it and called police. Pettigrew’s mother, Kenniss Henry, is running in her place but looks like Maryland is re-electing Democrat Barbara Mikulski. 

The death of a promising young person is tragic, but at least charges for the driver are pending. (An eyewitness says she saw the SUV stop after striking Pettigrew, then take off with sparks and smoke trailing behind due to the bicycle stuck beneath the vehicle.) Often, charges aren’t filed in cases where bicyclists are killed by cars because it’s an accident. One could argue that’s what manslaughter charges are for, but of course traffic laws (and their execution) vary from state to state and city to city. Pettigrew’s mother has advocated stricter laws in Maryland, where if a driver hits a pedestrian or cyclist, they must be impaired, grossly negligent, or show intent to cause harm in order to be charged with a crime. Cases in other states show similar outcomes: in Florida this July, a Navy vet and executive was struck and killed by an SUV driven by a nurse, but no charges were filed because police considered it an accident. The same was true in a 2009 case involving the death of a Virginia bicyclist by an SUV. In 2008, there were 716 cyclists killed in crashes with motorized vehicles, making up 2% of all traffic fatalities.

A few weeks after Pettigrew’s death, a Maryland law was enacted that requires a 3 foot buffer zone between cars and bikes on roads, and require vehicles yield right-of-way to bicycles. But the fine for motorists who cause a crash that involves a bike is just $1000. “A loss of life is a loss of life,” Henry told the Maryland Gazette. “We seriously need to look at how we balance these scales.”


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend