This Washington

We Need a Vulnerable Users Law, ASAP

By Josh Cohen August 20, 2010

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The Tacoma News Tribune reports that an uninsured Spokane driver, William Knight, hit and severely injured a bicyclist near Cheney, Washington in April while reaching down to grab his cigarettes. A few days later he was cited for expired tabs, driving with altered plates, and not having insurance. In late June, Knight hit and killed James L. Dahl as he walked across the street in Cheney. Despite killing one man and leaving another hospitalized for four days, the Tribune reports that Knight likely won't be charged for any crimes related to the accidents.

Erica discussed the need for a vulnerable users law last week, but it bares repeating in light of incidents like the ones in Spokane.

It's shameful that our state legislators could not pass the vulnerable users bill last session. The bill, introduced by Seattle Sen. Joe McDermott (D-34), would have imposed stricter penalties on negligent drivers who kill or seriously injure vulnerable roadway users such as bicyclists and pedestrians. Unfortunately, the bill never even made it to a vote.

Of course, there are times when drivers are not to blame. People are people and prone to doing stupid things regardless of whether they're traveling by bike, foot, or car. The goal of the law is not to place an unfair burden on drivers. It won't punish a driver who accidentally hits a biker who runs a red light or a pedestrian who absentmindedly steps out into the street. It will, however, create an appropriately stringent punishment that matches the level of responsibility required to drive a fast, high-powered, 2,000-pound metal vehicle around vulnerable roadway users (pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair users) who have just as much legal right to use the road as drivers do. If a driver makes the choice to take his or her eyes off the road to answer the phone, fiddle with the radio, or reach for cigarettes maims or kills someone, "I didn't see them" should not absolve them of responsibility.

Opponents of the vulnerable users law argue that there are already negligent driving laws in place to punish drivers who maim and kill bicyclists and pedestrians. But drivers go unpunished
often enough to justify more specific laws that carry the sort of weighty penalties that might make people reconsider their driving habits.

Though the vulnerable users bill died in the legislator this year, there's hope for it in 2011. Joe Fitzgibbon, candidate for 34th District state representative, has pledged to reintroduce the bill if he is elected.
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