Category Archives: vulnerable roadway user bill

vulnerable user bill–signed into law

Just got back from a trip down to Olympia today, where Governor Christine Gregoire has signed SB 5326, the Vulnerable User Bill into law.  This is the culmination of three years of advocacy work by the Cascade Bicycle Club and others.  Having attended three Judiciary Committee hearings, and testified at two – I’m pleased to see this come to fruition.  SB 5326 was among the final bills signed from this legislative year. 

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pictures snapped from tvw.org’s video feed

Shortly before four this afternoon, I got to shake the governor’s hand, and to tell her that my family and I appreciate this new law.  It will go into effect on July 1, 2012, four years to the day after my accident.

If you are interested, you can view the video of the bill signing here (the Vulnerable User Law signing occurs at time 33:25) :

http://tvw.org/media/mediaplayer.cfm?evid=2011050114&TYPE=V&CFID=5558792&CFTOKEN=26831267&bhcp=1

This experience was valuable for me in a number of ways.  First – it’s an education to see the legislative process in action.  Definitely not always pretty, but definitely good to understand.  Watching the Advocacy folks with Cascade work with the bill sponsors to help navigate the process was interesting.  Speaking with my legislators, as well as others about why it’s good to build awareness and accountability into our driving laws, was incredible.  Obviously, the opportunity to participate in positive change following my own brush with an inattentive driver was powerful too – good things from bad, and all that. 

The person I really have to thank for this is my wife Kris.  During my recovery back in late 2008, she and I were talking about the motorist vs. cyclist dynamic – how each seems to incite the other endlessly concerning road safety.  Kris pointed out that rather than complaining, it’s a far better use of energy to work to change the laws.  Naturally when the opportunity to participate arose a couple of months later, I couldn’t pass it up.

All in all, a good day.


the vulnerable user bill advances

Got word yesterday that the Vulnerable User Bill has passed a floor vote in the Washington State Senate (as SB 5326).  Now it’s on to the House, and the companion bill HB 1339.

Having taken several trips to Olympia over the past two in support of these bills, it’s nice to see positive change.  Being a part of this has been a way for my family and I to apply our own experience with a negligent driver two and a half years ago and hopefully prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else.  Channeling positive energy into this has been a great way for us to continue our healing process.

Watching the coverage of the floor vote in TVW’s Weekly Legislative Review allowed me to see some impact that the testimony we delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee had (the segment on SB 5326 begins at 12:10).

Senator Adam Kline speaks first.  In addition to being the Judiciary Committee Chair, he was the primary sponsor of the bill.  The second speaker was Senator Cheryl Pflug.  During the hearing, she’d asked several questions about whether civil action wasn’t a viable avenue for victims to secure recourse from the offender.  Several of us spoke to this point directly –in my case, the driver was uninsured and unemployed.  Additionally, pursuing civil action means subjecting one’s family to a legal process fraught with emotional consequences.  Senator Pflug incorporated this into her message today as she spoke in support of the bill prior to the floor vote.  I’ve already written thank-you note to her for this. 

If you are interested, you can see the debate and vote here (discussion of SB 5326 begins at 31:00 and is less than seven minutes long).

Watching how the legislative process works has been an education.  It has taken three years to get this far, and given my experience last year – I’m definitely encouraged to see things come together like this.  The biggest lesson for me has been that legislating is a lot more like sausage-making than making software.  The end result might taste okay, but generally you don’t want to visit the kitchen and watch it being made.  On the positive side, it’s been a great way to show the kids how bills become laws :

The Cascade Bicycle Club folks have posted the below diagram on their advocacy blog to help explain where we are now :

The diagram doesn’t show that the Senate bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee today, and that it is scheduled for a public hearing next Wednesday, March 2.  There are just a couple of weeks left in the session to get this done.  With all of the focus on fiscal issues, there’s the possibility that even with the apparent support behind this bill, it will get left by the wayside.  This effectively this happened last year in the Senate, when the bill died “on the calendar” (did not come to a vote prior to the imposed deadline).

Washington State voters should contact their legislators and convey support for HB 1339 – it definitely can’t hurt.


to the state house for better negligent driving laws

This morning I was one of several people to testify before the Washington State House Judiciary Committee in favor of HB 1339 – the Vulnerable Users Bill.  This is the companion to Senate Bill 5326.

You can find the video here.  Reading and discussion of the bill begins about 0:47:30 minutes in.  Testimony by some of us affected by negligent drivers begins at 1:11:00.

This is the third year the bill has been considered, which demonstrates that it apparently takes time to debate and consider a legislative equivalent of motherhood and apple pie.

I was impressed with how well-organized the Cascade Bicycle Club folks were.  We met prior to the hearing, talked about what we needed to accomplish, and decided on an order for testimony.  Last time, the folks who had lost family members went first.  This time, they wanted the testimony related to cycling accidents to go first, with the pedestrian accidents finishing. 

Some people apparently feel that cyclists are too reckless – a feeling that shows up in just about any conversation about cyclist-motorist accidents.  It’s immaterial, because as David Hiller of the Cascade Bicycle Club testified, a motorist is only charged with negligent driving if there is not “contributory negligence” on the part of the cyclist.  In the Senate hearing, one of the members seemed to require this rudimentary reminder.

Hearing the stories brought tears to my eyes.  Simple cause, with big effect.  In the pictures below, the caption “concerned citizen” really means “person who lost someone because of negligent driving”.

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Stricter laws will not bring Melissa Brulotte’s daughter, Colleen Zakar’s nephew, or Nancy Norton’s father back.  What I do like about the proposed penalties are that they attack a root cause (negligence) with better awareness, and better education.


the vulnerable user bill–another try

An act relating to negligent driving resulting in substantial bodily harm, great bodily harm, or death of a vulnerable user of a public way.

– From the Washington State Senate Bill Report on SB 5326.

For the past two years, Washington State has been considering a law that fills the gap between simple traffic tickets and crime, where the driver’s actions maim or kill someone.  Last year, there was a Senate bill that made it out of committee.  It didn’t make it to the floor before the deadline for house-senate debate.  The technical term is that it apparently “died on the calendar”.

This time around there are very similar bills progressing through the state house and senate.  These are SB 5326 and HR 1339.

I was contacted by Cascade Bicycle Club about joining them in Olympia for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill.  So – on Friday January 21st, we found ourselves ready to share our stories in support on SB 5326.

You can find the video here.  Discussion of SB 5326 begins about 31 minutes in.  Testimony by families and accident victims begins around 59:50.

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Four of us who were affected by negligent drivers got the opportunity to speak.  Melissa Brulotte shared her account of how a negligent driver hit and killed her two year old daughter.  Melissa herself was hit and injured, and her other children witnessed this terrible thing.  Colleen Zakar shared her account of losing her nephew Kevin Black to a negligent driver – and told us a bit about the conversations they’d had with Kevin’s children about this.  Their stories are incredibly stirring.  They also establish a real connection from a driver’s actions to the people affected.

I shared this statement with the members of the committee :

Mr. Chair, and members of the committee, I am Paul David from Kirkland. I am a very fortunate survivor of a negligent driver, representing myself before you today to discuss the Vulnerable User Bill.

On the morning of July 1st, 2008, I kissed my wife and two daughters goodbye, and set out to ride my bicycle to work. It was a nice morning, and I was travelling within the bike lane in line with the rules of the road, when the driver of a Ford F150 Truck suddenly turned in front of me. The driver had seen me, and thought he’d be able to make it in front of me – he was in a hurry you see.

I struck his truck just behind his passenger door and rolled under. His rear wheel actually passed over my head. Biking helmets are generally not designed to support the several thousand pounds that an F150 weighs. It is fair to say that I’m lucky to be alive and speaking before you.

I sustained a collapsed lung, and many broken bones. I had a fracture to my c5 vertebrae – had this been one inch over to the right, I would have been killed or rendered a paraplegic. I suffered loss of vision in my left eye. Most seriously, I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. A hemorrhage required that a flap of skull bone be removed to permit my brain to swell, then heal.

I spent a week in an induced coma in the ICU, and month in the hospital. I wore a helmet to protect my head for two months, until the bone flap was reattached to my skull. I spent much of that time unable to walk much, and requiring full-time care. I needed help with such things as bathing and getting to the bathroom. I was unable to be an active, engaged parent to my girls. I was unable to work (or drive) for nearly six months.

In contrast, the driver who hit me was able to drive off that very day, and return to life as usual.  He faced a $500 fine. It only would have been about half that, but he was also uninsured. Consider that for a minute. He exercised very poor judgment, nearly costing me my life. But he was able to simply drive away afterwards. In fact, he did not have to show up in court. Just had to drop a check in the mail, and be done with it.

Think about the positive effect that sentencing this driver to community service in a trauma center might have. He would see the consequences of his poor driving judgment up close, connecting people with his own actions. I imagine he’d remember doing something like that longer than writing a check and dropping it in the mail.

Laws need not be punitive, but they do need to encourage people to practice their driving privileges with good judgment and with careful attention to others on the road. They need to understand and to remember that they are operating machines that have the power to take lives, or to profoundly alter them. This is possible with the passage of this bill.

Thank you very much for your time.

The senators are optimistic that the bill will pass this time around.  Last year, it was passed by the judiciary committee by a 5-3 vote.  This time around the hope is that the vote is even more decisive.  If you watch the video, you’ll note that there’s very little debate that the bill is a good idea in principle.  The central point of debate was around the delineation between “reckless” and “negligent” driving (intent), and about whether they should consider making Negligent Driving II a criminal offense (verses an “enhanced violation”).  Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles shared her story about being cut off by a truck while she was doing the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic some years back.  She’d been very lucky – she was bruised and rattled, but not too seriously injured.

An ironic footnote here is that Rodney Tom, our own state senator failed to support this bill last year.  Cascade tells me that he’s on board this year.  I have letter out to him, and to Ross Hunter and Deb Eddy (our state reps who supported this bill last year) to confirm their support now.  I would encourage my fellow Washington State voters to contact their senators and representatives as well.

Engaging in the political process as a means to work for change is – interesting.  I strongly believe that in this case, the real goal is both to hold drivers accountable for their actions and to build awareness that there’s a problem in the first place. 

Taking this approach defuses the argument that victims want punitive laws.  Having thought about this a lot, I know very well that a new law won’t erase what happened to me, nor would it even be applied to my own situation.  But it will help prevent what happened to me from happening to others.


state senator rodney tom : protecting negligent drivers from the punitive will of those they’ve injured or killed

48th district voters of Washington – we deserve much better than Senator Rodney Tom.  If you feel the same way after reading this over, you can let him know by sending Senator Tom email.

Over the past several months, I’ve devoted some energy into seeing some new laws enacted that would help to protect cyclists and pedestrians from negligent drivers.  SB 5838 would have held drivers accountable when their negligence resulting in bodily harm or death to “vulnerable roadway users” such as cyclists and pedestrians.  You can read a bit about the bill here (includes links to material provided by the Cascade Bicycle Club, and to the text of SB 5838 itself).

When the 2010 version of the bill surfaced, I contacted Senator Rodney Tom, who represents my district, and asked for his support.  You can read about that unsatisfying exchange here.  He responded with a form letter.  My wife received a largely identical response, as did others who contacted him for support of the bill.  He expressed concern about enacting punitive laws affecting drivers, but not really any concern about the cyclists and pedestrians the negligent drivers might kill or injure.

I attended a State Senate Judiciary hearing during which the bill was discussed.  You can read about that experience here.  It should have been clear to me then that this bill was not a priority for the senators.  But it squeaked through with a vote of 5-3.  Then – the bill did not make it to the floor in time for a vote.  They call this fate “dying on the calendar”.

A week or so after the bill died on the calendar, I attended a town hall meeting hosted by my 48th district state representatives Ross Hunter and Deborah Eddy, as well as Senator Rodney Tom.  I rode to this event on my bicycle I sat in the front row clad in biking clothes, holding 8×10 pictures of myself in a hospital bed with tubes snaking into my nose and mouth.  I held them so that Reps Hunter and Eddy, and Senator Tom could see them as they spoke.  I spoke to all of them after the meeting, and received assurance from Reps Hunter and Eddy that they supported the bill.  Senator Tom was less clear, but did mention that he had been concerned about how harsh last year’s version was.  You can read about the meeting here.  During the meeting Senator Tom invited us to send him questions, and promised to respond.  Given my experience with Senator Tom, I was skeptical, but gave it a try.

Four days later, I received a rather non-committal response from Senator Tom.  He thanked me for my mail, but never gave indication as to whether or not he himself supported sb5838.  On the other Hand, Reps Hunter and Eddy made their support for the bill very clear, when I’d spoken to them.  So I sent Senator Tom the following message :

You might have indicated support for this when we spoke at the town hall
meeting, but I’m not sure of it.  Is this a bill you support as written
now ?

I received no response.  Nearly two weeks later, I sent this follow-up message to Senator Tom :

Senator Tom,
I still haven’t gotten a response to my question regarding your support of
the Vulnerable Roadway Users Bill.  Frankly, it’s easier to support someone
who I might disagree with than someone who seems unwilling to commit on
issues, or simply doesn’t respond to questions.  This is the second or third
time I’ve had this same experience with you.  I’ll also point out that it is
in direct conflict with the assertion you made in the town hall meeting last
month – when you invited us to ask you questions like this.
I cannot in good conscience vote for someone who is either non-committal or
unresponsive on issues of basic safety.
I do understand that this bill no longer has a hope of passing in this
year’s legislative session, but definitely hope that it will receive more
active consideration next year.
Part of the reason I asked you whether or not you supported SB 5838, was
that when we spoke about this at the town hall meeting, you made a point of
telling me you felt that last year’s version was ‘too harsh’ on negligent
drivers – similar to a previous response I received from you via email.
Given the changes reflected in this year’s version, I need to hear where you
stand on this issue now.
The person who hit me was convicted of ‘inattentive driving’, and for being
uninsured.  Whereas he was able to simply drop a check into the mail, I
spent a month in the hospital, was unable to work, drive, or to be an active
engaged parent to my two daughters for months.  My family and I are still
healing from the poor judgment this driver demonstrated.  As you and your
wife are avid cyclist yourselves, I would expect that this is an issue
you’ve given lots of careful thought to.
My goal here is not to advocate for a punitive law.  It is merely to raise
awareness and accountability for those exercising the privilege of driving.
The bill in question went a ways towards that goal with the components of
education and community service for those convicted of exercising poor
judgment on the road when it results in bodily harm or death.
thanks for your time and consideration,

I received the following response less than an hour later :

Paul,
Thank you for the follow up. I’m sorry I was not able to get back to you until now. I receive hundreds of email, letters, and hotlines daily.
As an avid bicyclist who has done the Seattle to Portland bike ride and whose wife rides every single day, I understand your frustration with the way our current laws are written, which basically provide no protection for bicyclists. I however believe that there are better ways to address the issue than in the punitive manner in which the current version of Senate Bill 5838 does.
It’s human nature when one is harmed, especially when one is killed, to seek some kind of recourse to somehow make up for the tragic loss. The problem with that is no matter what we do the loss will still be there. America has the highest incarceration rate in the free world, yet our crime rates are not any lower. Criminalizing accidents is not going to change driver behavior. People are not going to stop dialing on their cell phones, which is probably the #1 driver distraction. 
I would hate to see a normally law abiding citizen with a family be thrown in jail and/or prison simply because they had a momentary lapse in judgment. That basically puts every one of us at risk for a prison sentence and I believe that is far beyond the purpose of our criminal justice system. A substitute for the original bill will soon be introduced that changes the imposed penalty to an enhanced infraction. This fines the driver, will require the driver to attend a driver safety course, and require completion of community service within one year in order to retain their license and avoid a larger fine. This more reasonable approach is one I can accept. Unfortunately the bill did not have a chance to be heard on the Senate floor before a crucial cut-off last month.  This essentially prevents the bill from progressing further this session.
I’ve been a strong advocate for trying to get money to not only build bike lanes, but to maintain them. As a bicyclist there is nothing more frustrating than having a bike lane you cannot ride in because all the sticks and rocks make passage with anything other than a mountain bike impossible. I’ve also been a strong advocate for the reconstruction of the 520 bridge that will finally add a bike path to the bridge crossing, making easy access to the Burke-Gilman trail a safe alternative to those that want to ride recreationally.
Again, I want to thank you for your involvement and expressing your opinion and hope to address the core issue of bicycle safety in a manner that tries to alleviate accidents in the first place.
think Peace!

Problem is, other than the part where he tells me how busy he is, this is line-for-line identical to the form letters both my wife and I received concerning last year’s version of the bill.  He expresses concern about holding a negligent driver accountable, tells us that he likes to build bike lanes, but declines support for sb 5838.  Also – he only does so when asked repeatedly – apparently lacking the political courage to make his position clear.

The punchline to this whole thing is that yesterday the Washington State Senate voted to allow golf carts to travel the roads. 

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35765577/ns/local_news-seattle_wa/

This is SSB 6207 – read it here.  According to the roll call, Senator Tom got behind this one.  Clearly their priorities are in order.  I wish I was kidding, but I am not.

If you are a voter living in the 48th district – you (and I) can certainly do better.


pushing on with sb5838

As I wrote last week, the Vulnerable Roadway User Bill, aka Washington State Senate Bill 5838 died “on the calendar” last week.  Definitely disappointing, given that we’d heard that there was broad support for this bill.  Last Tuesday was the deadline for the State Senate to bring it to a floor vote, allowing the House time to discuss/debate their counterpart bill.  It did not make it.

I learned several things through this process.  First – our state legislature convenes for just 60 days in even-numbered years, and 90 days in odd-numbered years.  Those are not very long sessions, so it’s very important to be efficient with that time.  Second, there is a fair amount of stuff on the docket pertaining to fiscal matters.  Important stuff like funding of education and health care.  And ‘postponing’ enactment of Initiative 960 that would require a 2/3 majority before a tax increase is enacted has taken a bunch of time away from other business as well.

I attended a town hall meeting with my state senator Rodney Tom, and my two state representatives, Ross Hunter and Deb Eddy this past weekend.  Several hundred people attended, most of whom had concerns about the fiscal matters.  Not surprising that there would be a lot of interest, as the state is having to make deep cuts in many programs providing support for many people.  Others felt that now is just when we need to keep government honest, by forcing them to balance their books just like the rest of us have to.

I sat in the front row of this meeting, with some nice 8×10 photos of me in a hospital bed facing them as they discussed everything else.  When I flipped to a nice one that clearly showed the stitches from the craniotomy arching around the left side of my head, Rep. Eddy motioned to me from the stage that she understood why I was there.  I was dubious, although it’s possible that she discerned my interest from the fact that I was wearing biking clothes.  When Senator Tom made the claim that he’d take the time to answer any mail sent to him, I sat bolt upright, frustrated – as this was not what he’d done with me (two pieces of mail, and one phone call still unanswered).  Seeing my reaction, Rep. Hunter walked over and whispered down to me that he was with me.  I handed him a copy of the statement I’d prepared for the Judiciary Committee and sat back down.

When the meeting wrapped up, I asked Senator Tom what he thought about SB 5838.  He made a point of saying that he felt last year’s version was “too harsh”, because it would impose criminal penalties on someone for “a momentary lapse of judgment”.  He might have said that he supported this year’s version, but I was still wondering why he’d lead off a conversation like this by expressing concern for people convicted of negligent driving rather than the people they’d hit.  In studying Senator Tom legislative record, I have to say that he’s done some good things.  Based on my conversation and the sole email response I’ve received from him, I have lost a bit of respect for him.

I also spent a minute speaking with Rep. Eddy after the meeting.  She was apparently unaware that SB 5838 did not make it for a vote, but told me that she’d “look into it”.

I’ve followed up with them in email, and await their response.  I’m not sure what to expect, but my hope is that giving them the chance to attach a person and his family to what a negligent driver can do will put the issue on their radar.


sb 5838 dies “on the calendar”

Got some bad news this morning about Washington State Senate Bill 5838, the Vulnerable Roadway Users Bill.  Yesterday was the deadline for it to pass a full state Senate vote, before going to the house.  It did not make it to a floor vote, despite the best efforts of our friends with the Cascade Bicycle Club who spent lots of time talking with the relevant Senators, including the Judiciary Committee Chair Adam Kline, and Majority Leader Eide.

I attended the Senate Judiciary hearing on this last month, and brought along a prepared statement with pictures to tell my story.  I think that when we attach real people to bike crashes it becomes more difficult to dismiss the problem.  I left copies of the statement with some pictures for the committee members as well.  I got some thoughtful responses to this, particularly from Chairman Kline and co-sponsor Kohl-Welles.  I apparently have some work to do with my own Senator, Rodney Tom.  I received a form letter response from Senator Tom’s office to my first message, but heard nothing in response to two additional emails with questions as well as a phone call.  Time to send my story to others as well.

Prompted largely by Cascade, over 2400 messages were sent to Senators, advocating for this bill.  The bill did not die owing to lack of efforts by the cycling community. 

This is very disappointing, but definitely no cause to give up either.

Talk to people about this, and see whether we can’t do better next year.