A hole in Utah traffic laws was shown last summer when a car sideswiped Highway Patrol Trooper Chris Dunn as he investigated an accident severing his hand.
"What was the charge on that? Unsafe lane travel," Highway Patrol Superintendent Daniel Fuhr told the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities and Technology Committee on Thursday. "That was it. Nothing else."
The panel then unanimously endorsed SB104 to close the gap between issuing a minor traffic tickets and charging a major crime such as negligent homicide by creating a punishment in between a misdemeanor for "endangering a vulnerable user of a highway," including emergency workers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.
It essentially seeks to protect anyone "using a roadway that is not surrounded by thousands of pounds of steel in a car," said. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, sponsor of the bill.
Fuhr said the Highway Patrol wants the bill because "14 troopers in the last month and a half have been swiped and hit on I-15 handling emergency work," and he would like more options for tougher enforcement and education to help protect his troopers, bicyclists, pedestrians and others.
Weiler said he is sponsoring the bill to allow tougher punishment but not too tough in part because of his experiences as a bicyclist.
"I've been hit by two cars … and smashed out the windshield of one as I flew over their hood," he said. "I've had teenagers throw full bottles of water at me while riding my bike. I've had cars pull right up next to me and shout at me to get off the road," adding he was hugging the side of the road at the time.
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said a sister-in-law jogging along a road was once hit by a broom by a passing motorist, who was targeting cyclists and runners. "It did serious damage," she said.
Scott Little, executive director of Bike Utah, said, "The bill encourages motor vehicle drivers to use increased caution when operating around vulnerable road users."
The bill now goes to the full Senate.