It took three years of hard work and many heart-breaking testimonies of those who have lost friends and family-members, but the Vulnerable User Bill (SB 5326), which holds negligent drivers accountable when they injure or kill vulnerable users of the roads, finally went into effect on July 1.
The bill, signed into law by Gov. Gregoire on May 16, 2011, provides enhanced protection for the vulnerable road user by increasing the penalty for negligent drivers who commit traffic offenses that cause serious injury or death of a pedestrian, bicyclist or other vulnerable road users.
“A small fine is not a stiff enough penalty for killing or seriously injuring someone due to negligent driving,” said Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle), the bill’s prime sponsor. “This puts reasonable expectations on motorists to pay attention to bicyclists and other non-automobile users of the roadway, and will help provide some sense of justice to families who have lost loved ones.”
Under the new law, a driver committing a traffic infraction—such as speeding, texting while driving or running a red light—that results in the serious injury or death of a vulnerable roadway user will face an automatic fine of up to $5,000 and a 90-day suspension of driving privileges.
Alternatively, the driver may choose to appear in court and request the alternate penalty of 100-hours of community service in traffic safety or driver improvement, completion of a state approved traffic safety course, and a fine of $250.
This law does not establish criminal offense but it does create steeper punishment for driving offenses, which previously were penalized only with a mail-in traffic fine that in some cases was as low as $42.
In addition to bicyclists and pedestrians, vulnerable users include persons riding an animal, farm tractors, electric-assisted bicycles, scooters and roller-skates, electric personal assistive mobility devices, mopeds and motorcycles.
While the new law cannot undo the tragedies of the past, it does make negligent drivers accountable for their actions.
“This law fills the gap between a simple traffic ticket and a crime, punishing negligent drivers who injure or kill bicyclists and pedestrians with more severe penalties,” said Chuck Ayers, Executive Director of Cascade Bicycle Club. “Ultimately, we need to do a better job of looking out for each other on the roads to prevent collisions. This law reinforces the need for motorists to be attentive and careful when driving around vulnerable roadway users.”