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Protecting Washington Bicyclist

Erik Ladenburg   /   May 14, 2019

From 1999 to 2008, I frequently rode my bike to the office. I never felt completely safe on the road with semi-trucks and cars whizzing by at 50mph. I also never felt completely unsafe either. I wore bright clothes. I chose routes with large shoulders or dedicated bike lanes. I believed I could co-exist with motor vehicles with minimal risk.

By 2009 I no longer believed the risk was minimal. The game changer for me was the growing popularity of the smart phone. Almost overnight, the number of drivers I would see looking at their phones during my commute went from a few to several dozen. I would also see more and more drivers drifting towards the shoulder (probably looking at their phones). As a personal injury attorney, I also began to help or more victims of bicycle collisions during this time. Commuters not paying attention or rushing to their destination were causing serious injuries, even deaths. I decided I could no longer accept the risk of riding to work.

There is no data on cyclist injured in crashes with cars but there is data on cyclist killed. In 2017 (the last full year for which there is data), 783 cyclists were killed in the U.S.  The Washington legislature has noticed the dangers to cyclist and has passed laws to help. Distracted driving laws in Washington help all road users. A new law passed this year protects bicyclists and other “vulnerable roadway users” from unsafe motorists who try to pass too close. The bill was signed by Governor Inslee on Monday and it will take effect on January 1, 2020.

The purpose of this change in the law is to reduce serious injuries and deaths to vulnerable roadway users. “Vulnerable roadway users” include bicyclist, pedestrians, animal riders, persons operating farm tractors, motorcyclists, mopeds, or motorized foot scooters. Certain driving behaviors cause a high number of serious injuries and death. This bill is designed to reduce the number of injuries or deaths by penalizing those dangerous behaviors.

If signed, the new law will increase penalties for six traffic infractions that have the very dangerous for vulnerable roadway users. One of the most dangerous driving behaviors for cyclist is a motorist who passes when unsafe to do so. The new law adds a three foot passing rule. A motorist passing a bicyclist on a single travel lane road must give the bicyclist at least 3 feet of space where practicable. The law also requires the motorist to slow to a safe speed for passing relative to the speed of the bicyclist. If a lane exists to the left of the cyclist or other vulnerable person, the motorist must use it if possible. The motorist must pass by moving completely into a lane to the left of the right lane when it is safe to do so.

The new law also has safety requirements for the bicyclist to follow as well. The law provides that the cyclist cannot “occupy the lane” to block a motorist who wants to pass. Rather, the cyclist must move right to allow the motorist to pass, unless the cyclist needs to avoid a road hazard or the cyclist is preparing to turn.

In addition to the passing rule, the law requires a safe distance for motorists who are following behind a bicyclist. The law provides that vehicle follows too closely to a vulnerable user of the public way or fails to properly yield the right of way to a vulnerable user of a public way at an intersection, when turning left, at a stop sign, or when entering a roadway, the driver of the motor vehicle must be assessed an additional penalty.

Motorist versus bicyclist collisions are on the rise in Washington. Everyone who uses our roads has a duty to be safe. When both motorists and cyclists follow the rules of the road, they can safely coexist. If the rules are ignored, people will continue to be injured. At Ladenburg Law Injury Attorneys, we will continue to help those people who are injured. We will continue to educate people on the rules of the road so we do not have to help so many. Drive and ride safely!

Erik Ladenburg, Personal Injury Attorney

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