Deborah Matis-Engle was sentenced Friday by a judge in Redding, Calif to 6 years in jail for an incident causing the death of 46-year-old Petra Winn. She was charged with vehicular manslaughter - despite the tenor of the article, texting while driving was not illegal at the time in California. She was placed under arrest for drunk driving based on her behavior at the time of the crash but no evidence of drugs or alcohol was found. Can I conclude she was just rung up for being reckless? The CHP officer denoted that he felt there was gross negligence based on her knowing there were some one way traffic controls in the area. All that taken in - I think it's pretty fair to say the fact she was texting (paying bills via her phone) had much to do with the sentence.
Compare and contrast to the case of Jessica Stark of Champaign-Urbana (yes the home of my Alma Mater) who killed Matthew Wilhem while downloading a ringtone. The case is somewhat similar - but unlike the CHP officer in Redding, the DA in Illinois that the driver had "no reasonable expectation of a bike on the side of the road." Aside from that conclusion being somewhat dubious - there are cyclists and walkers using that road with at least nominal frequency - her behavior was negligent on its face regardless. Had she been staring at her phone and the car in front of her slowed to make a left hand turn, boom. Being that Stark was driving fast on a busy road, there is no way downloading a ringtone is not negligent.
Of course, the cynic has to point out the obvious sad difference. Stark killed a cyclist, Matis-Engle killed another motorist. Does the disparity say that motorists get an expectation of safety and cyclists don't?