By Andrew Maloney
Law Bulletin staff writer
SPRINGFIELD — State laws for Illinois drivers already say bicyclists have the same rights and duties as people in automobiles.
But a death and a tossed traffic ticket have led to further clarity that bikes and cars are treated as equals under the state’s rules of the road.
Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed House Bill 5912, which amends the Illinois Vehicle Code to state that every bicyclist on a highway is entitled to all of the rights, "including, but not limited to" the ones dealing with right of way.
The measure was prompted by the death of Dennis Jurs, a 68-year-old Army veteran who was biking when he collided with a vehicle in Kane County last year. The incident happened at an intersection where north and southbound drivers have stop signs but east and westbound vehicles do not.
The driver was charged with failure to yield in October 2015, but the case was dismissed when 16th Judicial Circuit Judge Donald M. Tegeler Jr. ruled there were conflicting rulings showing that bikes did not have the same rights as automobiles under Illinois law.
So Jurs’ family, as well as Michael S. Keating of Keating Law Offices P.C., crafted the bill and pushed for its passage this spring.
Keating counts bicycle law as a key part of his practice. He chairs the American Association for Justice’s Bicycle Litigation Committee and is an avid bicyclist himself.
"I think that it is a very important clarification in the law in that it emphasizes the importance of bicycles in a modern transportation scheme. And not just in Chicago, but across Illinois," Keating said this week.
The measure was sponsored by Rep. Anna Moeller, a Democrat from Elgin. She said she initially had some pushback from the Illinois State Police, who feared the original measure — which said that every driver shall yield the right of way to anyone operating a bike — might be too broad.
After a change that softened that language and clarified bikers simply have the same rights as vehicles, the measure passed through both the House and Senate with only one opposing vote.
"I think it received broad support because it’s not necessarily changing state law, it’s making a current state law more clear," Moeller said. "And so I think it was a noncontroversial (bill) and every district has people who are using the local highways and roads for cycling purposes."
Sen. Thomas Chapin Rose II, a Mahomet Republican, was the lone legislator who opposed the measure. He could not be reached for comment.
In tossing the driver’s ticket last fall, Tegeler relied on three cases — the 1981 1st District Appellate Court decision in Lewis v. Illinois Gas; the 2nd District Appellate Court decision in People v. John R. Schaeffer from 1995; and the 3rd District Appellate Court opinion in Standard Mutual Insurance Co. v. Rogers from 2008.
But in a bench brief submitted to the judge, Keating argued the cases were distinguishable. The first case addressed whether a bicycle was a motor vehicle as it related to an insurance policy.
The second decision held that bicyclists were not treated the same as automobile drivers under state DUI laws
And the third held that a child riding a bike on a sidewalk should not be treated as "vehicle" under those circumstances.
On the other hand, he wrote, the 1997 4th District Appellate Court decision in People v. Isaacson, in which the dismissal of a motorist’s failure-to-yield charge was overturned, is "directly on point."
In that case, the defendant hit a bicyclist on the way out of an alley, and the panel ruled the biker deserved the protection of right of way laws.
"The Fourth District in so ruling also made the legal point that the right of way statutes are for the protection of the person, not the vehicle," Keating wrote. "In other words, these statutes are to protect the person driving a motor vehicle or operating a bicycle. Under Illinois law it is not the object (i.e., "the vehicle") that gets right of way, it is the person who is legally on the roadway."
David E. Camic, of Camic, Johnson Ltd. in Aurora, represented the driver in the incident, James P. Connor. He could not be reached.
Jurs, the bicyclist who was killed in the incident, took up cycling when he was 30 years old to rehabilitate leg injuries he experienced from a land mine during the Vietnam War.
He was a member of a cycling team and an organizer for the Four Bridges Road Race in Elgin. The event was held in the early 2000s.
Keating said the law was also meant to honor Jurs.
"He died doing the thing he loved most," Keating said.
The law takes effect in January.