Thursday, January 26, 2006

HB1190 – Redefining Vehicles (Leaving Bicycles Behind)

The South Dakota Legislature is currently working on a bill that will make it legal to ride a bicycle while intoxicated. Two anecdotal stories are being told about this bill. There’s the guy who suffered his fourth DUI, but the punishment apparently seemed excessive because the fourth time he was on a bicycle. Another person was charged with DUI while operating a horse. His argument was that the horse knew the way home so he shouldn’t be found guilty.

Welcome to the frontier!

The dangerous part of the bill is that it wants to remove bicycle (and ridden animals) from the definition of vehicle. While there are plenty of murky (but perhaps good) arguments about whether or not changing this definition actually changes a bicycle’s ability to use the roadway, I think there’s also a very good argument to me made that the only way to know for sure what effect changing this definition will have on the law is to test it in court. I surely don’t want to be the one testing this new definition after getting driven over on a state roadway. I’d rather know that I’m a vehicle with equal rights to use the road.

I’m told that there was a 1994 South Dakota Supreme Court case that determined that the way the vehicle definition is currently stated, bicycles are included in the definition. I’m seeking details on this case because it would be interesting to see what might have happened had the court determined that bicycles weren’t included in the definition of vehicle.

Below is a statement I’ve sent to a few places regarding this bill. If you feel compelled, please write to your South Daktota State Senator about your (or my) opposition to this bill. The Senate Transportation Committee gets the bill next, and then it’s on to the Senate.

Thank you.

Additional thanks to the Prairie Progressive for making a morning interpretation of this bill for me. Please, any mistakes or gross errors I make in writing about the bill should be attributed to myself and not to his assistance.
I believe this is a bad bill for cycling and bicyclists. If you have an interest in keeping the bicycle somewhere in the realm of being a legitimate form of transportation, and not further relegated to a recreational endeavor or worse, a toy, you should consider voicing your opposition to this bill.

I believe the change to the definition of vehicle (Section I of the bill) needs to be opposed because changing definitions changes the reading of the laws in all chapters that use that definition, not just the "drunk bicycling" law it's attempting to focus on. Bicyclists' rights on the public roadways rely heavily on the recognition of the bicycle as a vehicle. My use of a bicycle on the public roadway relies heavily on the legal recognition of the bicycle as a vehicle.

I think the drunken cyclist section of the bill (Section II) is a bad idea, but driving under the influence is not an issue I feel compelled to argue about here, except to say the State ought to realize that cycling is dangerous enough sober.

If I was forced to compromise on the bill I'd object to Section I and keep Section II. Section II suggests excluding bicycles and animals from the laws related to drunk driving which would cause the stated purpose of the bill to remain intact. The Section I change isn't necessary for Section II to work, and eliminating it, eliminates the side effects that I'm concerned about.

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