‘What are we saying about life?’: Widower pushes for tougher penalties for crashes in bike lanes

Sarah Langenkamp during a Bike to Work Day event in 2017. (Courtesy Daniel Langenkamp)

Sarah Debbink Langenkamp was killed while riding her bike in a bike lane in Bethesda, Maryland, in August of 2022.

The driver who struck the 42-year-old was sentenced to 150 hours of community service and given a $2,000 fine.

Dan Langenkamp, Sarah’s husband, remembers what the judge told him at that sentencing: “The judge literally apologized to us, saying that there was nothing more the law could do” to hold the driver accountable.

That’s why Langenkamp went to Annapolis to urge legislators to change the law. The widowed father of two told a Senate committee, “In Maryland, for littering, you can be jailed for up to five years and fined $30,000. Now, what are we saying about life when you’re just given a $2,000 fine” and community service, he asked them.

Langenkamp was joined by Sen. Ariana Kelly in asking lawmakers to support SB 315, “The Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Memorial Act,” that would increase the penalty for drivers who contribute to a crash involving a cyclist or scooter user in a bike lane.

Kelly told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, “Our community was really, really shaken [by Langenkamp’s death.]”

Under the proposed bill, the fine for a driver contributing to a crash involving a person on a bike or scooter would still total up to $2,000 but adds a possible jail sentence of up to 2 months as well.

Kelly said the increased penalty is not “exorbitant,” but that it was important to toughen existing law.

“We wanted to make a difference,” she said.

According to testimony before the committee, in 2022, 660 crashes involved cyclists and 11 of those were deadly. In 2023, 15 cyclists were killed on Maryland roadways.

If passed into law, the measure would take effect Oct. 1.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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