In 2021, Washington reported a 20-year high for pedestrian deaths. Although the figure is under 3% of all crashes involving bikes or pedestrians, they represent an astounding 26% of fatalities. Alongside increased cyclist fatalities, accidents due to distracted driving have been contributing to the rise. Impairment by drugs or alcohol was implicated as a leading factor in more than half of those fatal crashes. In 2022, The WA Traffic Safety Commission reported that 745 people were killed on Washington roads, the most in over three decades. However, many promising interventions have proven effective in reducing fatalities, such as active lighting and fluorescent clothing, but the duty to minimize crashes is up to motorists and cyclists alike.
Riding the Road
In Washington, a bicycle is a legal vehicle, just like a car. When riding the roadway, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers. Therefore, cyclists who violate traffic laws may be ticketed. Bicyclists may also choose where to ride as it suits their safety needs. Bicyclists can ride on the path, bike lane, shoulder, or travel lane at any point. Bicyclists are expected to use proper hand signals at all times when riding. Bicyclists in Washington are allowed to ride side by side, with no more than two abreast at any time. However, only one rider is allowed per bicycle seat.
Once a bicycle hops the curb onto a sidewalk, the law changes, and bicycles are subject to the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian. One-way streets are also a unique situation for cyclists, and Washington law states bicycles can ride on the left, with traffic flow, on one-way roads.
While Washington doesn’t have a state law requiring helmet use, some cities and counties require helmets. Visit here for a complete list of locations and when the laws were enacted.
It’s important when planning a trip to know the local regulations for the area. While it may not be illegal to ride around without a helmet, it’s an effective safety measure that lowers your risk of a severe head injury. It is possible for the insurance company that insures the defendant to claim that your lack of a helmet contributed to your injury, significantly reducing the amount of damages you can recover.
Kids and Bikes
Washington state requires that parents ensure their children follow all applicable bicycle traffic laws. Parents or guardians can’t knowingly permit bicycle traffic violations under their watch. Before they ride, review proper hand signals and how to share the road with your children.
There are two main equipment requirements that every bike needs before they’re safe to ride on the road. First, every bike must be outfitted with brakes that can skid the tire. In the case of a sudden stop, riders should be able to come to a stop as soon as possible. At night, bicycles must have a steady white front light (not a reflector) that’s visible at 500 feet and a red rear reflector. A red rear light may be used in addition to the required reflector.
Washington’s Safety Stop law allows cyclists to treat stop signs as Yield signs. Additionally, cyclists must make a complete stop at stoplights, railroad crossings, and for school buses.
E-bikes are defined under Washington state law as assisted bicycles with two or three wheels, a saddle, fully operative pedals, and an electric motor with less than 750 watts of power. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes that travel less than 28 mph can use the sidewalks and trails. Class 3 bicycles are expected to follow the rules of the road.
How Much Can Someone Sue For a Bike Accident in Washington?
In personal injury cases, Washington breaks down damages into two forms: economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are “objectively verifiable monetary losses,” such as loss of earnings, medical expenses, and property damage. Washington does not place a limit on the amount a victim can claim for economic damages as long as the burden of proof is met. Copies of any documentation, including service records, medical records, and receipts, are useful to prove damages.
Non-economic damages, however, are subjective non-monetary losses that can be much harder to prove. Injury to reputation, emotional distress or the most common “pain and suffering” are all examples of non-economic damages that can be claimed in a personal injury suit. Under Washington State law, damages for “pain and suffering” are capped and shall not exceed the average annual wage of the defendant multiplied by .43 and their life expectancy. There’s no specific calculation used by the courts to determine an award for pain and suffering, and several factors are considered. The severity of your pain and the impact of your injury on your life are two of the most important factors the court will consider when deciding on monetary damage.
The Statute of Limitations in Washington
In Washington state, the statute of limitations provides claimants up to three years to settle or file a claim from the date of the crash.
Is Washington a no-fault state?
Washington is not a no-fault state and instead follows the concept of comparative negligence. As a comparative fault or comparative negligence state, Washington allows claimants or plaintiffs in personal injury cases to recover compensation even if they are partially at fault for the accident. This means that, even if the crash was partially your fault, you could recover the portion of your damages that are the fault of the defendant.
Legal Resources for Washington Bicycle Accident Victims
If you’re seriously injured in a bicycle crash, having a licensed attorney to advocate on your behalf can be indispensable. Unlike motorists, bicyclists are often unprotected from the elements, and many sustain serious injuries as a result of a crash. Bicycle accident victims are strongly advised to seek the legal counsel of a personal injury lawyer to navigate the complex claims process. When considering non-economic damages, an attorney will be one of your best advocates. However, there are many free resources that folks can access to plan biking trips, research local ordinances, and get involved with their local cyclist community.
You can access the pocket reference here for a free copy of Washington’s bicycle laws.
Public Records Request
If you need a copy of the accident report, you can file a public records request using their online form. While there’s no cost to review public records, there is a small fee to request a copy.
Find a Bike Club
If you’re looking for a local bike community, Washington has a ton of bike clubs across the state. No matter your skill level or location, you can find a club to join in your neighborhood.
Biking Guide for Parents
The Bicycle Alliance of Washington has a printable guide for parents, “Learn to Bike without Training Wheels,” to teach kids how to ride a bike with confidence and proper technique. With written and visual instructions, kids of all ability levels and ages can learn to ride a bike under the supervision of a guardian.
Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) if you’re struggling with mental health or substance issues and need someone to talk to. It’s an entirely free and confidential service offered 24/7, 365 days a year, in both English and Spanish for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This anonymous search tool can also find online resources and treatment centers.
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