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Washington Vulnerable User Laws 

Colburn Law

Traffic safety is a priority for Washington — especially when it comes to reducing fatalities and injuries among the most vulnerable people on the road. Pedestrians, cyclists, scooter users, and wheelchair users can suffer severe damage during collisions with motor vehicles due to the sheer size and weight difference. The resulting injuries can be even more serious compared to collisions between drivers.

To increase protections for these individuals, Washington legislators brought SB5723 into law beginning on January 1st, 2020, as well as the Vulnerable User Law in 2012. One of the most significant changes to Washington traffic law to date, this law establishes additional safety provisions and imposes higher fines and penalties for drivers who injure or drive dangerously around vulnerable users on the road.

Who Counts as a Vulnerable User?

Under SB5723 and the Vulnerable User Law, certain people on Washington roads fall under the vulnerable user designation. This group includes pedestrians, cyclists, scooter users, and electric wheelchair users, as well as the following groups of people.

  • Anyone riding an animal, such as a horse
  • Anyone operating a vehicle driven by an animal, such as a horse-drawn carriage
  • Motorcyclists
  • Moped users
  • Anyone operating a tractor or another piece of farming equipment without an enclosed shell

Drivers’ Responsibilities Under SB5723 and the Vulnerable User Law

The driving forces behind SB5723 and the Vulnerable User Law came with the death of 49-year-old John Przychoden in 2011, after a pick-up truck struck him twice while he was riding his bike on the shoulder of a road in Kirkland, Washington. The teenage driver received a $42 ticket for making an unsafe lane change, and this minor punishment drove activists to call for greater protections and harsher penalties for negligence-caused injuries and fatalities of vulnerable users.

Under the Vulnerable User Law, drivers who commit a negligent traffic infraction and injures a vulnerable user in the process can face a traffic infraction for negligent driving in the second degree. Penalties for this infraction include a fine up to $5,000 and a license suspension up to 90 days.

The most significant change of traffic law under SB5723 involves how drivers pass vulnerable users, like cyclists and horseback riders, on the road.

  • If a driver is approaching a vulnerable user traveling in the same direction and multiple lanes in the direction of travel are available on the road, the driver must change to a different lane before passing the vulnerable user.
  • If only one lane in the direction of travel is available, the driver must slow down until he or she is traveling at a safe speed relative to the speed of the vulnerable user. The driver can only pass once at least three feet of space is available between the vehicle and the vulnerable user.
  • If only one lane in the direction of travel is available and three feet of space is not available, the driver must change to the next lane when the opposite direction is clear of oncoming traffic.

Changes for Cyclists Under SB5723

In addition to the requirements for drivers, cyclists are also subject to certain rules under SB5723. Depending on the space available in the lane, cyclists must ride as far to the right of the road as possible to allow vehicles to pass safely.

However, cyclists do not need to move to the right if there is not enough space for safe passing or it is unsafe to ride to the right. For example, if riding too close to the right would put the cyclist on damaged or uneven pavement, he or she does not need to move to the right.

If you suffered injuries as pedestrian, cyclist, or other vulnerable user as a result of a negligent driver, you have legal options available to you beyond these laws. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you can claim compensation through an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. Contact a Washington personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case and strategize your next steps.

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