Yesterday’s post on the suspect arrested in the hit and run provoked an incredulous comment on Twitter: “Vehicular assault of a bicycle?!” a phrase used in the Eugene police press release and blindly repeated by moi and in The Register-Guard this morning.
Indeed, as much as I love bicycles, it is the person who was riding the bike that we care about. The actual law, by the way, is titled: “Vehicular assault of a bicyclist or pedestrian.”
In case you were wondering, here is the statute, also known as ORS 811.060:
(2) A person commits the offense of vehicular assault of a bicyclist or pedestrian if:
(a) The person recklessly operates a vehicle upon a highway in a manner that results in contact between the person’s vehicle and a bicycle operated by a person, a person operating a bicycle or a pedestrian; and
(b) The contact causes physical injury to the person operating a bicycle or the pedestrian.
It is a “Class A misdemeanor,” the possible punishment for which is up to one year in jail and a $6,250 fine.
It sounds like cycling advocates worked hard to get this law through the Legislature in 2001. It almost didn’t pass, apparently.
But here’s one thing that strikes me about it: In looking at this chart, which breaks down the more generic kinds of “assault” in Oregon law, I notice that “vehicular assault of a bicycle or pedestrian” — as a Class A misdemeanor — would seem to rise to about the level of “Assault IV.”
But “vehicular assault of a bicyclist” requires the defendant to be “reckless.” Other kinds of assaults involving “reckless behavior with a deadly or dangerous weapon” rise to Assault III, a felony, at least according to that handy chart.
So why is recklessness with a motor vehicle a less severe crime than recklessness with, I dunno, a handgun or a candlestick? I’m not a lawyer, and I’m probably getting into topics I don’t fully understand. But I do think it says something about how we view automobiles. I mean, who wants to equate an automobile with a dangerous weapon?
I do not mean to criticize those who got this law passed. I know it was hard enough as written, and they did what they could. But I think that very fact says something important.