The teenager who swerved into the shoulder of Juanita Dr and killed John “Mr. Safety” Przychodzen last summer received a $42 ticket for an “unsafe lane change.” The kid was not intoxicated and was not being “reckless,” police said. So the $42 ticket was all they felt they could give him.
The Vulnerable User Law, which state bicycle advocates fought for years to pass, was written to address all-too-common situations like these where a negligent-but-not-criminal traffic error results in the death or serious injury of someone walking or biking. The VUL went into effect July 1 in Washington.
The brilliance of the law is that it does not seek to criminalize negligent driving. Instead, it outlines a series of financial penalties, license suspensions and driving education or relevant community service projects that, in theory, will ensure the person driving takes a level of accountability for what they have done.
Before the law, people often drove away from the scene where they killed someone, and only needed to mail in a check with their ticket and be done with it. Not only is that an insult to the family and friends of the person killed or injured, but I feel like that would be more psychologically agonizing for the driver than were they to have a chance to at least in some way make amends for what they have done.
In the end, a reactive law like this does not really make cycling much safer, but it rights a loophole in social responsibility that should never have been there. Good work, everyone who fought to get this law passed. Now let’s make our streets so safe we never have to use it.
“A small fine is not a stiff enough penalty for killing or seriously injuring someone due to negligent driving,” said Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle), the bill’s prime sponsor. “This puts reasonable expectations on motorists to pay attention to bicyclists and other non-automobile users of the roadway, and will help provide some sense of justice to families who have lost loved ones.”
Under the new law, a driver committing a traffic infraction—such as speeding, texting while driving or running a red light—that results in the serious injury or death of a vulnerable roadway user will face an automatic fine of up to $5,000 and a 90-day suspension of driving privileges.
Alternatively, the driver may choose to appear in court and request the alternate penalty of 100-hours of community service in traffic safety or driver improvement, completion of a state approved traffic safety course, and a fine of $250.