Last week HB 1339, the Vulnerable User’s Bill, passed the House. The Senate already passed a different version and will now have to review 1339. The bill establishes new penalties for “negligent” drivers that cause serious injury to a bicyclist or pedestrian.

The base penalty is a $5000 fine, reduced to no less than $1000, and  a 90 day suspension of driving privileges. The driver may opt instead to pay $250 plus administrative costs, attend traffic school, and perform a court-set amount of community service (up to 100 hours) relating to driving safety.

As someone who spends roughly equal time driving and bicycling, I’m glad the state is placing more responsibility on drivers, people with all the power on the streets. This bill is a step forward.

However, I wish there was a little less emphasis on punishment and more on prevention. People tend to discount the possibility that their divided attention will cause accidents, and I’m not sure piling on penalties will be effective. What I’d rather see is removal from the road of people that have demonstrated they aren’t responsible enough to handle a deadly weapon. That would mean license suspensions for years, not days, and jail for people who drive around without a license*. Although I don’t have a problem with the fines, I don’t think they’ll make us much safer.

* The current law says 10 days jail for a first offense, which is not enough.

28 Replies to “Vulnerable Users Bill Moving Along”

  1. I would add to that list, people who knowingly drive around without insurance. Maybe not jail, but perhaps on-the-spot impoundment?

    1. “On the spot impound” Seems a bit harsh, given that my insurance company issues a “identification card” that’s printed on a laser printer. It could be easily forged as the traffic officer isn’t required to contact the insurance company and validate the numbers etc. And I’ve been known to miss distributing the cards to the cars every 6 months that a new card is sent out. Currently there’s a fine of $300+ dollars if you don’t have current insurance. But if you had insurance and can’t find the card its a $25 court fee to go down to the court and show the proper stuff.

      Besides in these tough economic times, I’d rather the police spent their time catching crooks who so actual damage to my property.

  2. The best “prevention” is instilling the fear-of-[insert deity here] into the heads of heavy-machine operators (automobiles are heavy-machines).

    Here’s a privilege (driving). Screw it up and you are going to jail and/or losing everything you have worked hard for.

    1. I think the problem is that people consistently overestimate their ability to handle high speeds and distractions while driving.

      If the fear of death, serious injury, and large expense in a car-on-car accident isn’t enough, I’m not sure the remote chance of punishment for mowing down a cyclist is going to do it.

      1. But fear for their own safety is addressed when they choose their vehicle, particularly those who select based on having more mass than others. And expense is what insurance is for.

        Perhaps the real problem is liability insurance.

  3. I used to bike up the hill to Highline CC from Kent.
    I always wondered why the highway crews would sweep any accident debris off the roadway, over the fog line, and smack in the middle of the bike lane.
    Do they sweep the debris from bikes and pedestrians onto the roadway?
    Maybe it’s a second class citizen thing.

    1. All the DOTs have a lot to learn about bikes and peds. They are getting better, but they do seem to consider bike lanes and paths to be their own special free-parking zone.

      We need to get upper management with some familiarity with the unique issues surrounding bike travel, both in terms of how and where they go about building bike facilities and someone with the empathy needed to start making sure the dudes on the roads doing the work understand that endangering people on bikes isn’t particularly funny.

  4. I love this bill, but there needs to be a bill punishing negligent bikers. As a biker, I am ashamed and embarrassed by the actions of some bikers (very small percentage). While their punishment is potentially injury, disablement or death, this doesn’t stop them from doing stupid things and only serves to hurt the rest of the biking community.

    While it’s hard to regulate bikers, they could pass legislation giving large fines for negligent and dangerous biking. Although enforcing it could be hard, we could step up bicycle police patrols.

    1. I agree that the attitudes/actions of some bicyclists are downright appalling, which gives all bicyclists a bad name.
      If anyone has no idea what I’m talking about, visit somewhere like Portland and keep your eyes peeled.
      Three words: mandatory bicycle licensing. If you don’t wanna register and/or pay, you don’t get to own a bicycle. We as a society agree with mandatory motor vehicle licensing, as bicycles become a more accepted form of regular transportation for necessary trips, this is no different.

      1. I agree, any negligent bicyclist who injures a auto driver should face similar penalties.

        … Ok, injures a pedestrian or another bicyclist since the chance of injuring a driver by falling through their windshield is pretty small.

    2. These laws (against negligence in the operation of a bicycle) already exist, it’s just that enforcement is difficult; cops can’t be every place, and they often have higher priorities. As for the notion of licening bicyclists, self powered locomotion is, in fact, a constitutionally protected right – not the privilege that is motoring, and any licensing scheme would cost for more to implement than it would bring in.

      People have looked at this over and over.

  5. I agree with Anon. This should be an evenhanded bill. Not just the vehicle drivers, but also bikers. I have seen PLENTY of them slow down, and then roll through traffic lights and stop signs. Also riding in the middle of of the road on back roads, and refusing to get over for a vehile.
    Some education would go a long ways… on both sides.

    1. This bill concerns death and destruction by negligent drivers. I have no idea what you mean by making it “evenhanded” for bicyclists; last I checked, bicycles were not the leading cause of death for the under 35 age group.

      I would prefer that any limited public funds be instead dedicated towards educating and policing the far greater numbers of speeding and non-yielding cars, or towards a Netherlands-style bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

    2. It really depends on the person’s intent and attitude as shown in their behavior.

      It’s a burden on bicyclists to have to stop completely at stop signs when they’re going up hill, or when the cross street is at the bottom of a steep valley (so that they’re going from downhill to uphill). As long as they slow down enough that they can stop easily if a car or ped suddenly appears in front of them, and they don’t get in the way of those who are properly crossing, that should be enough. Forcing bicyclists to stop completely for three seconds is excessive.

      As for peds I feel somewhat the opposite. Too many people cross in the middle of the street without looking and expect cars to stop for them. Even on Aurora, as I said a couple days ago. They need to take some responsibility for keeping themselves in one piece, and not put the entire burden on drivers.

      1. Stopping completely at the stop sign is the law. I don’t care if it’s a “burden.” If you can’t do it, then you do not belong on the road.

        When I’m walking through downtown Seattle, most of the cyclists I see have no problem breaking the law. They run red lights. They drive down the street like a car and then hop on the sidewalk like a pedestrian. And they run down pedestrians walking on the sidewalks.

      2. Stopping completely at the stop sign is the law.

        I prefer to think of it as a suggestion. If I’m at a 4-way stop out in suburbia and there’s not a sole in site then coming to a complete stop and putting your foot down is a pretty sad statement to one’s inability to think for one’s self. Maybe living in a city just sucks any remnant of common sense out of you or maybe it just attracts those who wholly subscribe to group think.

    3. I should also add, it’s not just enough for bicyclists and peds to keep a buffer large enough to avoid a collision, there’s also the additional buffer necessary to avoid alarming drivers. So I wouldn’t go in front of a moving car if it’s close enough that the driver might be uncomfortable. These are the kinds of things we need to minimize, not forcing bicyclists and peds to stop completely at all lights no matter how little traffic there is.

  6. Are you kidding me?

    People love their wallet more than they care about some bicycle rider.

    Make them pay high fines and they’ll pay attention.

  7. A question. When the roads were designed,or are designed, were bicycles part of the equation,or only cars?

    1. Actually the American Wheelmen (the oldest bicycle club in America and still going strong) was the leading proponent for paving what at the time was primarily a system of dirt roads. So yes, bicycles were very much part of the equation.

  8. At what point do we begin training the cyclist on how to ride in the roadway? Far to frequently cyclists change lanes directly in front of me, or other cars without even the courtesy of an appropriate hand gesture…other than telling someone they are number one! How about requiring cyclists have lights on their bikes, front and back day and night? Lets increase their visibility. Oh, yeah, and when riding on the roadway…follow the law!

    1. At what point do we begin training automobile drivers on how to drive in the roadway? Far too frequently automobile drivers change lanes directly in front of me, speed, and fail to follow yielding laws, all while feeling they are number one! How about real penalties for the negligent misuse of deadly weapons, instead of xenophobic anti-cyclist tirades?

      1. Frankly, as a pedestrian in downtown Seattle, the people I see breaking the law are the bicyclists. They constantly run red lights, ride on the sidewalks, and run over pedestrians. They’re a menace to people simply walking down the street.

      2. What, exactly, is illegal about riding a bicycle on the sidewalk in Seattle?

        Cars also run red lights, fail to yield, drive the wrong way on one way streets, drive on the sidewalk (see the Belltown car-on-sidewalk case from earlier this year), speed, and consequently run over pedestrians, injure and kill other drivers, and themselves. The result? Cars are the leading cause of death for people under the age of 35. How do injuries and deaths caused by bicycles compare to this grim carnage?

        Cars are the real menace not only people simply walking down the street, but large segments of the population.

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