Traffic Safety Advocates Fear Light Penalties Won’t Deter Drivers from Making Poor Operational Decisions
February 4, 2019 (AUGUSTA, Maine) – Road safety advocates at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine expressed deep disappointment with the outcome of the case brought by the State of Maine against Mr. James Mayo, the driver who hit Dr. Carol Eckert in 2016 while she was lawfully riding her bicycle in Windsor, Maine. The case was recently resolved through a plea agreement involving a $1,000 fine and three-month license suspension for Mr. Mayo.
Jim Tasse, the advocacy director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, expressed concern that the punishment agreed to by the state prosecutor and accepted by the court does very little to deter unsafe driving and perhaps may even encourage it in the future.
“While the Coalition certainly appreciates that it is hard for the state and the court to arrive at appropriate penalties for a case like this, from our perspective, the decision does not adequately deliver justice and does not promote safe behavior on Maine roadways,” Tasse said. “When a driver can’t see, Maine law requires the driver to slow down and/or stop his vehicle.”
Traffic safety advocates were also concerned about the media’s coverage of the plea agreement. Lauri Boxer-Macomber, who is a bicycle law attorney at Kelly, Remmel and Zimmerman, a member of the National Bike Law Network, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said she was very disappointed to see so much airtime being given to defense counsel’s characterization of this crash as “an accident.” The National Highway Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety have all made concerted efforts to stop using the term “accident” to describe crashes.
“The word ‘accident’ is for events that happen unexpectedly, by chance, and without apparent cause, and should never be used to describe preventable collisions,” said Boxer-Macomber. “In fact, the report for this collision is written up as a ‘crash report.’”
Although the state prosecutor never put this case before a judge or a jury for fact-finding, Boxer-Macomber believes a very strong argument could have been made in court that if Mr. Mayo had been operating at a safer speed and/or had immediately slowed down or stopped when he felt his vision was compromised, Dr. Eckert would still be alive today.
Under Maine law, safe speed does not simply mean going the speed limit. Section 2074 of the Maine Traffic and Safety Code requires that people drive their vehicles “at a careful and prudent speed not greater than is reasonable and proper having due regard to the traffic, surface and width of the way and of other conditions then existing.”
Years after Dr. Eckert’s death, the Coalition continues to mourn the loss of her life. Dr. Eckert was a very special woman and was well-loved by her family and community, the organization said.
Although her legal case is over, the Coalition says it will continue to advocate for safer roads in her name. In this spirit, the Coalition reminds drivers that bicycle riders and walkers are out on Maine roadways throughout the year and at all hours of the day and night. Drivers should be on the lookout for people and should consider taking appropriate precautions if their vision is at all impacted by snow, ice, sun glare, road conditions, or other hazards.