This Washington

Biker Protection Bill Still Alive, Kicking

By Erica C. Barnett February 9, 2010

Good and bad news for supporters of the vulnerable roadway users bill, which would increase penalties for  drivers who kill or seriously injure cyclists or pedestrians with their car. The bill, if passed, will enhance the state’s negligent driving law so that anyone who kills or seriously hurts a vulnerable user while committing second-degree negligent driving will, within one year, have to attend traffic safety class and perform up to 100 hours of community service or pay a fine of up to $5,000.

The good news: The bill made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, after supporters convinced five senators to sign off on the legislation. (They were: Randy Gordon, D-41, Adam Kline, D-37, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-36, Debbie Regala, D-27, and Pam Roach, R-31). According to Cascade Bicycle Club policy director David Hiller, the bill started out with just one signature—Kline's—and supporters had to wrangle the remaining senators into supporting it.

Hiller says some committee members were convinced to oppose the bill by testimony from several municipal district court judges, who argued that the legislature has never before passed a law allowing enhanced penalties at the civil court level.

The bad news: The latest version of the bill does not let judges suspend the license of someone who kills or injures someone while driving recklessly, a provision that was in the original proposal, because "there's a belief that people are going to drive no matter what," even with a suspended license, Hiller says. Driving with a suspended license, unlike killing a vulnerable roadway user through negligence, is a criminal offense. So, the argument goes, allowing license suspensions for killing vulnerable users would essentially criminalize a traffic infraction—something senators like Roach were unwilling to do.

The bill has been softened significantly from last year’s version, which would have made it possible to jail certain negligent drivers. It ahs one week to make it out of the senate rules committee, and two weeks to make it out of committee in the House.
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