For Whom the Ringtone Tolls

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 05, 2006

In a remarkable (at least, I feel the need to remark on it) court case last week, a nineteen-year-old Urbana, Illinois woman was sentenced to a $1,000 (USD) fine and traffic safety school after her "improper lane change" killed a cyclist. The details bear repeating:

[The cyclist] died on Sept. 8 from head injuries he received Sept. 2 when Stark hit him with her car because she was downloading ring tones to her cell phone instead of paying attention to driving.

[He] was bicycling north on Illinois 130 east of Urbana when he was struck from behind about 7:15 p.m. Stark was so far off the road that she hit Mr. Wilhelm from behind with the driver's side of her car. He was wearing a helmet. [emphasis and hyperlink added]

It gets worse. The driver "had three prior convictions since May 2005 one for disregarding a traffic light and two for speeding. The last speeding conviction came about five weeks before" hitting the cyclist.

As the victim's mother noted, the district attorney decided not to pursue the more serious charge of reckless driving, in part because the driver had "no reasonable expectation of a bike on the side of the road".

Think about that for a minute. What does such an assumption say about the institutional legitimacy of cyclists? That drivers who kill cyclists through driving recklessly by any reasonable definition can be excused because they don't expect to have to share the road?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2006 at 15:51:57

I think this case should be re-tried, and the JUDGE should be charged!

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted December 05, 2006 at 16:13:23

In fairness, Mal, it was the DA who picked the charge. I don't think the judge is allowed to convict on a different charge, and the fine is the max sentence for improper lane change.

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By NJBikeMan (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2006 at 00:17:54

I find this event unfathomable. Obviously this 19 year old has no sense of priorities. It’s distracting enough just talking on a cell phone, but this young lady compounds distraction by “downloading ringtones”. Don’t people think? No matter what this person is charged with or convicted of; the cyclist is still dead and nothing is going to bring him back. But to ignore justice when a life is taken is a travesty.

Cyclists have the same right as a motor vehicle to ride the roads. If you’re in a car, take a second and give the person riding the bicycle a little kindness. Perhaps we can start and epidemic of kindness. That would be a good thing.

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