House approves bill to better protect bicyclists and pedestrians

OLYMPIA – Legislation to increase penalties on drivers that kill or seriously hurt vulnerable people on the road was approved by the House today. A traffic ticket, under current law, is the only penalty for a negligent driver that seriously injures a bicyclist or pedestrian.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, introduced the bill to provide better protection to all users of the road.

“Inattentive drivers are a public safety problem, and that threat can become deadly when their accident involves a bicyclist,” Fitzgibbon said. “This will ensure negligent drivers are held accountable when they hurt or kill a pedestrian, and hopefully make the road a safer place for everyone.”

If a negligent driver kills a vulnerable roadway user today, they could face up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. Under Fitzgibbon’s proposal, House Bill 1339, the default penalty would be $5,000 and a suspension of their driver’s license for 90 days.

“Our community roads are becoming much more than places for cars, and we need to continue working to make sure everyone is safe on their way to work or home,” Fitzgibbon said.

The Cascade Bicycle Club is a supporter of the bill, seeing it as a way to better protect pedestrians and bicyclists and their right to travel safely around their community.

“With each new crash, it becomes clearer that there is a gap in the law,” said David Hiller, policy director at Cascade Bicycle Club. “The public is usually shocked to find out that the ticket is the same for a driver hitting a child in a crosswalk, and just cutting them off. With this law, we’re enhancing the penalty to better address collisions that leave people seriously injured or dead.”

Margaret-Lee Thompson, co-coordinator at King County Parent Coalition for Developmental Disabilities, a program of The Arc of King County, appreciates the bill moving forward.

“As a parent advocate for people with developmental disabilities, I know that Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon’s bill, House Bill 1339, is a welcome addition to our laws because it stiffens the consequences for those who do not drive safely,” Thompson said. “There are many vulnerable people who daily walk or are using their wheelchairs whose safety will be greatly increased because of this bill.”

While the bill will address the gap in protection for vulnerable people in the streets, it also has an alternative penalty involving traffic safety training and community service.

“A pedestrian sent to the hospital by a negligent driver wants to know action will be taken to prevent others from being hurt or killed,” Fitzgibbon said. “With these penalties, we’re strengthening our laws and getting the punishment in line with the problem.”

The House voted 59 to 39 to approve the measure and send it to the Senate for further consideration.