On November 25, 2018, 34-year-old, Nicole Vanderweit, was driving 70 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone when she drove into a pack of cyclists. The “accident” resulted in two fatalities and left five others injured.
Vanderweit claimed the sun impacted her ability to see the road clearly and that she may have looked down briefly to reach for a pack of cigarettes prior to the collision. Crash experts determined Vanderweit should have been able to see the cyclist’s group 10 seconds before the collision, however Vanderweit only began to brake between 1.1 to 2.5 seconds before making contact with the group.
When is an accident, not an accident, but rather a foreseeable event? Does driving 70 MPH with the sun in your eyes on a street you know is used by cyclists rise to that level?
The court determined that despite the irresponsible and careless driving, it did not rise to the level of vehicular homicide. This week, the court rendered its sentence:
A suspended license for six months;
A four-hour driving improvement course; and
120 hours of community service.
This begs the question as to whether stricter standards must be put in place in order to deter activity like the one in Vanderweit’s case. Two individuals lost their lives that day and the harshest portion of the punishment is a suspended license for half of a year. If the sunlight did impact her view of the cyclists, as she alleged, then Vanderweit should have slowed down, rather than drive 15 miles per hour above the set speed limit.
In order for Vanderweit to have been charged with vehicular homicide, prosecution would have to prove that she demonstrated a “willful or wanton disregard for safety.” In the case at hand, the prosecution deemed this was not the case.
However, until these relaxed standards are changed, it will continue to be difficult to protect cyclists, pedestrians, and effectively carry out justice on behalf of those families affected and all the future families that may be affected.