The Insurance Lobby is trying to block a Contributory Negligence fix.

On Thursday, AAA Mid-Atlantic sent a disingenuous email to its DC members with some exaggerated claims about the effects of the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015. The bill, which fixes a glaring injustice in our legal system, goes up for a D.C. Council vote on Tuesday. If you haven’t yet, please send a note to your Councilmembers asking them to support the bill. You can also join us on the steps of the Wilson Building on Tuesday morning to show support for the bill.

Contact your Councilmembers

On Friday afternoon, WABA circulated a memo debunking the insurance lobby’s claims to Councilmembers and their staff . Here is a summary of the memo: Property Casualty Insurers of America (“PCI”), a national trade association representing auto insurers in D.C., has circulated a misleading “analysis” of bicycle and pedestrian crash data to suggest that if the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015 (B21-4) passes, auto insurance rates will jump 24%. A careful evaluation of the analysis shows that it is based upon flawed assumptions and grossly inflated cost data. The primary flaw in the analysis was the use of an outdated (2004) study to determine the total lifetime costs of traffic crash injuries to bicyclists and pedestrians to society, not actual insurance claims. Using this much larger and inflated estimate, the PCI analysis exaggerates the impact. More importantly, no evidence was presented to suggest a causal relationship exists between the legislation and insurance rates, and if that was the case, what the actual rise in rates could be, if any. The PCI analysis assumes 100% of crashes will involve DC-insured drivers. According to the 2014 DDOT Traffic Safety Statistics Report, only 37% of total traffic crashes involve a DC driver. Maryland and Virginia drivers alone account for 46.9% of all crashes in the District. The costs of crashes associated with bicyclists and pedestrians would be spread much further into the regional insurance pool, not solely in the District’s. Finally, for some context, bicycle and pedestrian traffic injuries account for only 15% of total traffic injuries in D.C. according the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The need for fair compensation for injured bicyclists and pedestrians is great and insurers of negligent drivers should be responsible for harm caused. But, to claim that compensation of an additional 15% of total injuries would cause such significant increase to auto insurance rates is not credible. In cases where a bicyclist or pedestrian is the less negligent party, the victim should be entitled to fair compensation and not 100% barred from recovery, as is the law in 46 other states.

Contact your Councilmembers

What’s Next for the Contributory Negligence Bill?

Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee voted 3-0 to move the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act out of committee and recommended it for consideration by the full D.C. Council. The version of the bill that came to markup had two minor but substantive changes from the one that was introduced last January. First, it now includes a definition of “non-motorized user” to mean “an individual using a skateboard, non-motorized scooter, Segway, tricycle, and other similar non-powered transportation devices.” These vulnerable road users are now explicitly  covered by the bill, in addition to bicyclists and pedestrians. Secondly, the bill expressly retains the last clear chance doctrine, something that is already available under the law in the District. Reserving it will likely result in greater protection for bicyclists, because in circumstances where the bicyclist is contributorily negligent, for example, where the bicyclist’s negligence exceeds 50% of the harm, the bicyclist still has the last clear chance doctrine at his or her disposal, which would allow the bicyclist to recover— even if the bicyclist was contributorily negligent— when the motorist had the last clear chance to avoid the collision. In our view, it cuts in favor of bicyclists. We support both changes to the bill. What’s Next? We’re not done yet! The bill will now be considered by the full DC Council when it meets as the Committee of the Whole sometime before summer recess. It needs seven votes to pass the Council, and the Mayor’s signature to become law. The bill’s sponsors are Councilmembers Cheh, Grosso, Evans, Bonds, and Allen; Councilmember Alexander is a co-sponsor. We are closer than we’ve ever been to fixing this obvious problem in the law—something we’ve been told couldn’t be done. Our opponents didn’t think could be done, and they’re still working to keep the legislation from becoming law.  Between now and the final vote, we’ll need to do everything we can to make sure we have sufficient support on the full Council. Keep your eyes out for action alerts about opportunities for further public comment and testimony as they arise. We’ll need everyone’s involvement to get this across the finish line.

UPDATE: Big legislative success this afternoon

BTWD 2015 -Colin_0133 (1) (1) We just got back from the Wilson Building and we’ll have a more thorough update soon, but I wanted to make sure you knew that the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act to address contributory negligence passed a markup hearing in the Judiciary Committee just a few hours ago. This is great news. You probably have the background, just in case, here’s a summary of how contributory negligence hurts you as a bicyclist and pedestrian in the District of Columbia. We’ve been working on this for years, and it’s thrilling to be so close to fixing this terrible legal doctrine. Thanks to everyone who called, wrote, petitioned, testified, and championed this work. Thanks for standing up for vulnerable road users across the District. But we obviously can’t celebrate just yet. The bill still has to go before the full D.C. Council. Considering the powerful forces protecting the status quo, we’ve pushed much further than anyone would have expected. This is long overdue, we think we can win, but we need your help.

Please donate today to help us see this through to the end.

Our advocacy work takes time, and that doesn’t happen without support from folks like you. WABA is 501(c)3 non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. Please support this campaign with a donation of $25 or more today.

Our work on contributory negligence won’t stop until we’re rid of this dinosaur of a legal doctrine. Contribute today, so we can celebrate its extinction with you.

Dooring Bill is Now Law in Virginia!

dooring The Virginia General Assembly closed its 2016 legislative session on March 12th with some welcome news for bicyclists across the state and the Washington region. Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of Virginia residents, advocates, and legislators, SB 117, the “dooring” bill, passed both the Virginia House and Senate. On April 1, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed the bill into law. SB 117 requires drivers to wait for a reasonable opportunity to open vehicle doors on the side adjacent to moving traffic. A violation constitutes a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of not more than $50. Getting “doored” is an all too common cause of crashes between bikes and cars, often resulting in severe injury to the bicyclist. After many years of advocacy and many iterations of this bill, Virginia finally joins the District of Columbia, Maryland and 39 other states in placing responsibility with the driver to avoid dooring another road user. While codifying a new traffic infraction may not seem significant at first glance, it means a great deal to a bicyclist dealing with the aftermath of a dooring crash. Until now, a driver could blindly throw open their door into the path of a bicyclist, cause a crash, and drive away without citation or any legal responsibility. The law now correctly puts fault where it is due, and should help some bicyclists recover damages, even despite Virginia’s outdated contributory negligence standard. Without question, this is a massive win! A special thank you goes to our partners at the Virginia Bicycling Federation for their tireless advocacy efforts on this legislative initiative.

Preventing Dooring

This law is very good news for anyone who gets doored in Virginia, but every road user has a role to play in preventing dooring crashes. Here are a few tips.

Drivers & Passengers

  • Before opening your door, check behind you. Use your mirror and turn your body to look before opening a car door, especially when inside the car.
  • Open car doors slowly.
  • Adopt this habit; Release the latch of the driver side door with your right hand. This practice forces you to look behind you before opening the door.
  • Remind passengers to check it’s clear to open their car door before they exit.

Bicyclists

  • Avoid riding in the “door zone.”  Car doors can extend 4-5 feet from a car and open quickly. Leave 3-5 feet between you and parked cars. On narrow streets, many bike lanes are placed in the “door zone,” so hug the left side of the lane.
  • Stay alert: Keep your eyes up, scan for activity ahead of you, and be on the lookout for drivers and passengers inside cars.
  • Be predictable and visible: Ride in a straight line and ride where drivers expect bicyclists to be. Use a front light when riding at night.
  • Learn and practice crash avoidance maneuvers: Take a City Cycling Class with WABA.

Other Legislation

Another bill, SB 669 was continued in the House Transportation Committee to 2017. SB 669 would have removed a disincentive for cities and towns to replace traffic lanes with bike lanes. Currently, highway maintenance funding is calculated based on the number of lane miles the city or town maintains. Under this bill, municipalities would not have their maintenance funding reduced if motor vehicle lane miles are converted to bicycle-only lanes. This would have helped municipalities wishing to engage in traffic calming, road diets, and other street safety projects. This bill made significant headway, passing in the Senate, but never made it out of the House Transportation Committee. continued to 2017. This means that this bill will be back on the calendar for the 2017 legislative session.

The Contributory Negligence Bill is Moving!

Big news! We have heard from Councilmember McDuffie and Judiciary Committee staff that they plan to bring the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015 (B21-0004) to markup, this Thursday. The doctrine of contributory negligence is a legal dinosaur. This unfair legal standard is used to deny a bicyclist or pedestrian access to compensation for medical bills and property damage suffered when a negligent driver inflicts injuries on a less-negligent road user.  This doctrine unfairly compounds legal vulnerability upon physical injury and limits bicyclists access to justice. When a bicyclist or pedestrian is involved in crash with a driver, he or she should be able to focus on recovering from injuries without worrying that medical and property damage claims will be denied due to an outdated legal doctrine.

Contact your Councilmember 

The District of Columbia is a national outlier, as it is one of only five states that still use contributory negligence to allocate fault. The vast majority of states have updated their negligence standard to a fairer system. WABA has been advocating for reform of this antiquated law since early 2014. The bill before the Judiciary Committee would change the law so that if a bicyclist or pedestrian is less than 50% at fault for the crash, he or she would not be automatically barred from recovery. Passing this law will give people a chance at having their expensive medical bills and damaged property covered. The current version of the bill represents a good compromise between many powerful stakeholders and we hope it will pass out of committee without any changes that would jeopardize the widespread support it enjoyed when it was first introduced last January. Click here to tell your Councilmember that you support passage of this bill without amendment, to give bicyclists a fair chance at justice after a crash.

Last Week’s Council Hearing: Resounding Support For Bike Bills

Last Tuesday, the DC Council considered four bills that propose a host of significant improvements for street safety, including: street design policies, crash reporting, open data, bicycle / pedestrian prioritization areas, and aggressive measures to curb life-threatening behavior—like distracted, impaired, and aggressive driving. Although the news coverage focused on a “stop-as-yield” provision for bicyclists, the proposed bills cover a huge range of improvements that have the support of a diverse set of stakeholders.

The Hearing

Supporters of safe streets came out in full force to support the bills. Councilmembers heard testimony from a wide range of bicycle, pedestrian, insurance and automotive advocates on the merits of the proposals.  Fifteen public witnesses shared personal and heartfelt stories about their experiences, clearly underscoring how much work remains to be done to prevent the tragedies we have become accustomed to on our roads. With more than thirty wide-ranging policy changes on the table, it is telling that not a single witness raised strong objections in testimony. Every witness, even the automotive and insurance lobbies, supported stiffer penalties for dangerous and impaired driving, a codified complete streets policy, and prioritizing the safety of vulnerable road users. Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Charles Allen, Brandon Todd, and Elisa Silverman each made firm commitments to changing our approach to street safety.  Charles Allen (Ward 6) stated that we “must stop thinking of roads as only for cars,” because “safety must be more important than convenience.” These bills are likely to move forward quickly. After the holiday recess, we expect to see the proposals combined into a single bill, followed by a vote to move it out of committee. For a full breakdown on the merits of each proposal, click here to read WABA’s full written testimony, For great coverage of the hearing from WABA member and twitter user @darsal and others, click here. You can submit comments on these bills until Dec. 22.

Send comments

What is Stop-as-Yield all about?

The proposed change would allow bicyclists in very specific situations to treat stop signs as yield signs.  Many drivers report confusion about current law for bicyclists. A change to the stop law would reflect current practice by many drivers and bicyclists. The following chart compares what behavior is illegal or legal under current law and what would change if the proposed legislation were enacted.
Bicyclist action Potential for endangering other road users? Status under current traffic law Status under proposed law
Riding through four-way stop without stopping or looking with a vehicle stopped at the cross street. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through two-way stop without stopping or looking with a vehicle present or proceeding in the opposite direction. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a red traffic light without stopping. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a four-way or two-way stop without stopping when another vehicle is approaching at the same time. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a stop sign with a pedestrian crossing or preparing to cross the street. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a four-way stop without other vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians present. No Illegal Legal
WABA supports stop-as-yield because it would focus scarce traffic enforcement resources on road user behaviors that post real risks to others — including distracted driving, driving under the influence, and failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians. Studies show that jurisdictions that have implemented stop-as-yield laws have seen a decrease in crashes. Of the eighteen proposals in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015, this is one of the few that faces opposition. The Metropolitan Police Department, AAA Mid-Atlantic, and the District Department of Transportation each expressed reservations about implementing this provision, citing concerns that it would lead to confusion about the law.  

There’s Still Time to Voice your Support For These Bills

The hearing is over, but the official record for this legislative package will remain open for comments until December 22nd. If you believe, as we do, that streets should be designed to prioritize safety for the most vulnerable, that driving carries enormous responsibility to protect the people and communities on our roads, and that safe travel is more important than fast travel, submit comments to the record.Of all the great provisions in these bills, stop-as-yield is the most vulnerable, and the most likely to be left out of a final version. If you would like to see stop-as-yield implemented in DC, include that in your comments.

Send comments

Better bike laws before the DC Council next week

CIMG0316 Three important pieces of legislation will be considered by the DC City Council Committee of Transportation and the Environment December 8th.
  1. B21-0335, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015;
  2. B21-0383, the Vision Zero Act of 2015; and
  3. B21-0021, the Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015
Adoption of these bills would represent a major step forward in the District of Columbia’s stated goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries by the year 2024. These bills would make the streets of the District safer and friendlier for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike, enshrining the important principle that streets are for people. These bills would also enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors and improve the economy and environment of the District of Columbia. Over the past year, we’ve worked hard to bring these bills to the table. Now we need you to show your Councilmembers on the transportation committee that you support these bills and the bold vision they represent. 

Submit Comments Here

Here’s a rundown of the key issues addressed by the bills.

(Believe it or not, this is the short version…)

Complete Streets Policy: One of the most important sections of both the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act and the Vision Zero Act relates to complete streets policies. Each bill lists the principles and purposes of the city’s complete streets policy. The Vision Zero Act would “ensure the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, the elderly, motorists, freight providers, and emergency responders.” (p. 2, l. 19.) The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act includes similar language. (p. 8, l. 183.) In order to actually change the status quo and create streets for people, the complete streets policy should elevate the safety and convenience of pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, and the elderly over the convenience of motorists and freight providers. The Vision Zero Act would specifically require facilities for all users to be included in any construction, reconstruction, retrofit, repaving, and rehabilitation of a street. (p. 3, l. 16.) This means that DDOT would presumptively install bicycle lanes or separated cycle tracks any time it repaved a street that did not previously have such facilities. WABA strongly supports this provision and recommends its inclusion in any transportation safety legislation that is adopted. Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas: The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would require DDOT to designate priority areas where the area is used heavily by bicyclists and pedestrians and the area has a high number of collisions. DDOT would be required to make improvements to traffic patterns and infrastructure in priority areas to enhance bicyclist and pedestrian safety. WABA strongly supports this program and recommends its inclusion in any transportation safety legislation that is adopted. We would like to see the bill revised to provide that DDOT shall actually implement, and not just recommend, safety changes to the priority areas. Open Access to Data and Information: WABA strongly supports open access to crash and road safety data. Accurate, complete, and accessible data will help the District accomplish many of the goals of its Vision Zero Initiative by:
  • Identifying high priority streets, intersections and neighborhoods for safety improvements;
  • Analyzing the effects of street design features;
  • Creating more accurate benchmarks for measuring the District’s Vision Zero performance over time;
  • Enabling public health practitioners to develop a greater understanding of the relationship between crash variables and medical outcomes; and
  • Promoting transparency and ensuring the public’s ready access to important safety information.
WABA has encouraged the Mayor’s office, DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the City Council to modernize the District’s crash data collection, integration and disclosure policies in three ways:
  1. Updating the crash intake form of the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) to better align with national minimum standards so that the circumstances of a crash are captured accurately at the scene of the crash;
  2. Integrating crash data with medical data so that the physical outcomes of people injured in a crash are reflected in the record of the crash; and
  3. Disclosing crash data automatically, in a timely and intuitive manner.
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would take important steps to further these goals by mandating DDOT to publish on its website monthly collision data. One factor required to be disclosed for each crash is the “apparent human factor or factors that contributed to the collision, including intoxication, driver inattention or distraction, speeding, failure to yield, and use of cell phones or other mobile devices.” Unfortunately, it is WABA’s experience that crashes can also be caused by a driver’s intent, recklessness, or aggressive driving. Accordingly, this list should be expanded to include those potential contributing factors. The bill should require MPD to disclose the number and location of tickets issued to motor vehicle drivers for parking, idling, or driving in a bike lane. Like moving violations and unlike most parking violations, parking, idling, or driving in a bike lane creates a safety hazard. Cars and trucks obstructing bike lanes cause bicyclists to merge into car traffic, sometimes abruptly, and sometimes directly into the path of a speeding driver. This is an all-too-common experience for bicyclists in the District, one that discourages inexperienced or apprehensive riders from riding their bikes. A requirement to disclose the number of tickets issued for parking, idling, or driving in bike lanes would send an important message that enforcement is needed in this area, and would allow the City Council and the public to monitor levels of enforcement. Finally, DDOT and MPD crash data has often been released in static reports that do not enable the public to sort the underlying data to produce maps and charts. Therefore, all crash safety data subject to the disclosure provisions of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act should be disclosed in a format that is easy to read and should be downloadable by the public.

Submit Comments

Stop as Yield: The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would permit a bicyclist approaching a stop sign or steady red light to cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping if there are no vehicles with the right of way in or approaching the intersection.  WABA supports this provision because it would focus scarce traffic enforcement resources on road user behaviors that pose real risks to others – including distracted driving, driving under the influence, speeding, and failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians. Curbing Dangerous Driving: The three bills being considered would improve the safety of our streets by defining new moving violations, strengthening the enforcement of existing violations, and revising education programs.
  1. Ignition Interlock Devices—The Vision Zero Act would require a person who has been convicted of certain drunk driving offenses to install an ignition interlock device. (p. 6, l. 15.) WABA supports this requirement, and believes it should be strengthened with an enforcement provision. Currently, the only consequence of failing to install a required ignition interlock device appears to be an extension of the mandatory term for which the device is required to be installed.
  2. Drunk Driving Penalties—The Vision Zero Act would increase penalties for drunk driving offenses.   (p. 7, l. 21.) WABA supports these provisions.
  3. For-Hire Vehicle Operator Training—The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would revise for-hire vehicle operating training and taxi operator training to add training in specific traffic concepts, including the rights and safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. (p. 12, l. 276.) WABA fully supports these revisions, which will help educate our city’s most active and frequent drivers on the rights of the most vulnerable road users.
  4. Repeat Offenders—The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would provide an escalating series of fines for repeat offenders of serious driving violations, including entering crosswalks, crossing through a red light, failing to yield the right of way, or parking or idling on a sidewalk or bike lane. (p. 14, l. 322.) WABA supports this provision, but believes it could be strengthened by clarifying that separate violations of two different offenses on the list would also trigger increased penalties.
  5. Distracted Driving—The three bills being considered would address some of the flaws of the Distracted Driving Safety Act of 2004.First, the Vision Zero Act would amend the law to increase the penalty for distracted driving from a $100 fine with no points to a $500 fine plus two traffic points. (p. 9, l. 1.) The fine and points would be suspended upon the purchase of a hands-free accessory.Second, the Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act would amend the law by keeping the $100 base fine, but providing an escalating series of fines for repeated violations within an 18 month period, including a suspension of the driver’s license for the third violation. (p. 2, l. 41.) Points would not be assessed for a single violation that did not contribute to a crash, but may be assessed for a subsequent violation that occurs within an 18 month period, regardless of whether the violations contributed to a crash. (p. 2, l. 55.) There would be no suspension of a fine or points for the purchase of a hands-free accessory.Third, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would amend the law to further limit the situations in which a person could use a mobile telephone while operating a vehicle. (p. 15, l. 347.)WABA supports adopting a combination of all three bills. The base penalty for distracted driving should be increased to include higher fines and traffic points, because a $100 fine is far too low to be a deterrent. Moreover, drivers should not be free of punishment for purchasing a hands-free device, since research now shows that hands-free phone use is nearly as distracting as handheld phone use. Rather, an increase in the penalties applicable to repeat offenses should provide first-time violators with the incentive to comply with the law in the future. Finally, the scope of proscribed conduct should be expanded to include all situations where a driver is operating a motor vehicle other than an emergency.
  6. Aggressive Driving—WABA supports the creation of an aggressive driving offense for drivers who commit three or more specified dangerous offenses at the same time or during a continuous period of driving one mile. (Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act, p. 15, l. 352.) Given the seriousness and number of offenses underlying an aggressive driving violation, we believe the proposed penalty of two traffic points and a $200 fine is too low and should be increased.

What’s Missing:

  1. Speeding LegislationUnfortunately, none of the bills being considered would lower the speed limit on the city’s residential streets from 25 mph to 20 mph, despite widespread recognition that speeding is one of the most important determinants of traffic injuries and deaths.  Cities larger and more congested than the District of Columbia have adopted lower speed limits. The evidence is clear that lower speed limits save lives:
    • A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the risk of severe injury for a pedestrian hit at 23 mph is 25 percent. At 31 mph, the risk of severe injury increases to 50 percent. At 39 mph, the rate of severe injury jumps to 75 percent.
    • According to AAA research, a person is 74 times more likely to be killed if struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph than at 25 mph.WABA urges the City Council to pass legislation lowering the speed limit on residential streets to 20 mph.
  2. No Right Turn on Red—Pedestrians are especially vulnerable to crashes by drivers making quick and dangerous right turns at red lights. Drivers are violating the pedestrians’ right of way if they turn through an intersection with a pedestrian present. Often, drivers do not come to a full stop behind the stop bar or slow down before making a right turn on red. There should be an increased application of or a city-wide adoption of No Right Turn on Red.
  3. Increased Fines for Parking in Bike Lanes—Parking, standing, or stopping in bike lanes causes a dangerous situation for bicyclists and drivers. When a bike lane is blocked, even temporarily, bicyclists are forced to merge into a regular traffic lane. This sudden need to merge out of a bike lane and into mixed traffic often creates a safety hazard for drivers and bicyclists.

It is illegal under District law to stop, stand, or park in a bike lane. The penalty is $65 per violation. In 2013, the District issued 4,200 tickets for unlawful parking and standing in bike lanes. The number of vehicles that continue to park in bike lanes demonstrates that this fine is clearly not a sufficient deterrent, especially for commercial delivery drivers.

The district should raise the penalty for illegal parking in bike lanes. Comparable cities have significantly higher fines than the District ($100 in San Francisco and New York; $115 in Chicago).

Submit Comments

If you’ve read this entire blog post, you are a bonafide bicycle law superfan, and we’ve got another ask: Sign up to testify at the hearing on Tuesday. Are you in? Email abenjamin@dccouncil.us or call (202) 724-8062 to get a place on the speaker’s list. Then, email advocacy@waba.org to let us know you are coming. We’ll have talking points, resources, and staff available to help you write and deliver your testimony. You can also stop by the WABA office on Monday, Dec 7, between 4 pm and 7 pm to discuss in person.

Legislation to watch this fall in the D.C. Council

BTWD 2015 -Colin_0133 (1) (1) The Council of the District of Columbia’s legislative session is in full swing with four bills relevant to bicycling. Here are brief summaries of each bill and links to the full legislative language. We will be tracking the progress as these bill move forward (or don’t).
  1. Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015 (B21-0335)

    This bill reflects the consensus recommendations of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Working Group, (convened by Councilmember Cheh and co-chaired by WABA and AAA Mid-Atlantic) which was formed to assist the Council in reforming the District’s laws, regulations, and policies to improve road safety.  It includes improvements to crash data reporting, adopts a Complete Streets policy, creates pedestrian and bicycle priority zones, adopts “stop as yield” (a modified version of the Idaho stop law) for bicycles, clarifies that existing laws prohibiting opening doors into traffic apply to bicycles, and a host of other safety improvements.
  2. Vision Zero Act of 2015 (B21-0383)

    Mayor Bowser’s bill codifies aspects of the District’s Vision Zero plan. The bill makes the Complete Streets policy law; bans the use of ATVs and dirt bikes on D.C. streets; establishes an ignition interlock device program for repeat DUI offenders; changes fines and jail sentences of drunk drivers; increases fines for distracted driving from $100 to $500 and adds two points.
  3. Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015 (B21-0004)

    If passed, this bill will bring D.C. negligence laws out of the dark ages and more in line with the majority of states. Under current D.C. law, a bicyclist injured in a crash cannot collect damages if she is found to have been in any way at fault, even if the other party bears a disproportionate amount of blame. As a result, insurance companies routinely deny claims resulting from crashes, leaving injured bicyclists with few options. Under the proposed bill, contributory negligence could not be used to deny coverage to a bicyclist or pedestrian who was 50% or less responsible for her injuries. It also explicitly retains the doctrine of joint and several liability— a primary concern for the D.C. Trial Lawyers Association that contributed to an earlier version of the bill being tabled in 2014.
  4. Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015 (B21-0021)

    This bill, introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, strengthens the penalties for distracted driving. Under the proposed law, the first violation would result in a $100 fine, with fines escalating for repeat violations over an 18 month period. The second violation in an 18 month period would be a $200. Any further violations would incur a $400 fine and suspension of license and vehicle registration for 60 to 180 days. Points could be assessed for a second violation within 18 months even if the violation did not result in an accident.
WABA will give periodic updates on bills via our blog (waba.org/blog–you’re reading it right now!). We will also be sending out targeted action alerts to our members and supporters who live in the district. Sign-up for email updates and action alerts here.

Not so fast…

Despite recent forward progress on the “Motor Vehicle Recovery Act of 2015,” the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary is delaying work on the bill until the fall. Last week, we announced the bill would have a markup hearing before the Council’s summer recess, but today, the Committee on the Judiciary’s mark-up hearing agenda did not include it. The bill will have to wait until the fall when the Council returns from recess. The Judiciary Committee cited other remaining business before the committee as the reason for the delay. While tight schedules are understandable, delaying this bill will directly impact hundreds of District residents over the next few months. There at least 3-4 crashes every day involving a pedestrian or bicyclist in D.C. Many of these injured victims will be denied recovery of damages and medical expenses because of the current law. The “Motor Vehicle Recovery Act of 2015” will abolish the unfair and out-of-date negligence standard that allows insurance companies to deny injured victim’s claims after a crash with a driver. We are disappointed to see progress on this important piece of legislation delayed until September. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5 – D) is the chair of the Judiciary Committee. If you wish to express your opinion about the delay of this bill, please send him an email or call his office at (202) 724-8028. Learn more about this issue and WABA’s campaign to make the law fair for vulnerable road users involved in crashes

Crash Victim Bill Moving Forward in D.C. Council

BTWD 2015 -Colin_0133 (1) (1) The D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary will hold a mark-up hearing for the Motor Vehicle Recovery Act of 2015 in early July.  If passed, this bill will enable injured victims to recover damages after a crash. The District of Columbia is one a few remaining jurisdictions with an antiquated contributory negligence standard (Maryland and Virginia are too) in the country. Most states abolished the use of contributory negligence decades ago. Insurance companies use confusion of the rules that pertain to bicycling or slight errors made by injured crash victims to deny their claims. Victims are stuck paying their medical bills and costs to fix their damaged property (i.e. their bicycle). Or, they try to hire an attorney to bring an expensive lawsuit against the driver’s insurance. Often attorneys won’t take these cases because the risk of losing is too high. All are no-win situations. The Motor Vehicle Recovery Act of 2015 will make it against the law for insurance companies to continue this unfair practice. Injured bicyclists and pedestrians will have a fair chance to have their claims paid. Negligent drivers who injure people should be responsible for their actions.  This bill does not give a bicyclist the right to recovery if they are primarily at fault. Last year, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014.” The committee tabled the bill in November due to concerns from DC Trial Lawyer’s Association. Councilmember Mary Cheh reintroduced Motor Vehicle Recovery Act of 2015 in January. The current bill is stronger and addresses concerns raised last year. Councilmembers Bonds, Evans, Grosso, Allen and Alexander co-introduced the bill. The exact date for the mark-up hearing is not known yet, but the hearing will occur before the summer recess begins in mid-July. The bill must have a majority of committee members vote in favor of the bill to move it back to the full Council for consideration. The soonest the bill could be back to the full Council is this fall. Councilmember McDuffie is the chair of the Judiciary Committee. If you wish to express your support of this bill moving forward in the committee, please send him an email.