Contributory Negligence clears another hurdle!

Great news!!  After nearly three years of persistent organizing and advocacy by the WABA community, the DC Council just voted unanimously for the second time to pass the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act to fix contributory negligence!

Thank your Councilmembers!

This was something that, three years ago, we were told couldn’t be done. Together, we have changed what is possible.  It will now go to Mayor Bowser for a signature, and afterwards undergo thirty days of Congressional review. We aren’t across the finish line yet, but we are closer than ever. This could not have happened without strong leadership on Council, especially Councilmembers Grosso, Cheh, and McDuffie.

Click here to send a quick thank you email to all your representatives on DC Council.

 

Great News! The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety bill passed!

On June 28, the DC Council voted unanimously for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016 (B21-335). Mayor Bowser signed the bill in late July. It will become DC law at the end of August after 30 day period of Congressional review. 

Highlights of the Act:

  1. Open access to data and information, including monthly reports published on the DDOT website making available collision data that includes geographic and demographic data, death and injury counts, and possible contributing human factors like intoxication, distraction, or failure to yield. This is an unprecedented level of transparency that will enable independent research and analysis by advocacy groups and public citizens.
  2. Creation of Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas, based on factors such as areas with a high volume of people riding bikes or walking, or areas with frequent or severe crashes. Safety modifications to an area selected to be a Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Area could include interventions such as prohibiting right turns at red lights, reducing speed limits, installing protected bike lanes, or increasing levels of automated enforcement like safety cameras.
  3. Codification of a Complete Streets policy, with the expressed goals of encouraging walking, bicycling and the use of public transportation, establishing a District-wide integrated system of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, involving residents and stakeholders in planning and design decisions, actively looking for opportunities to repurpose roads to enhance connectivity for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders, and improving non-motorized access to schools and parks. The Act directs DDOT to incorporate the policy into the agency’s Transportation Strategic Plan, Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans, and other manuals, rules, regulations, and programs, including construction and reconstruction and maintenance of all roads.
  4. Bicycle insurance consumer protection— the Act contains an entire section on bicycle insurance regulations.
  5. Bicycle and pedestrian safety provisions, including an explicit prohibition against dooring bicyclists, and mandating universal traffic and street safety curriculum for public school children in 1st-5th grade.
  6. Motor vehicle safety provisions, which include updates to taxi and vehicles-for-hire driver training requirements— explicitly instructing them in the rights and duties of motor vehicles not to stop in an intersection or a bike lane; mandate a study for a deferred disposition program for traffic infractions that would allow someone to reduce fines and points if they attend a safety training; increased penalties for aggressive driving; the installation of side guards and blind spot mirrors on registered trucks, and a ban on the use of ATVs and dirt bikes in the District.
  7. Drunk driving provisions that increase penalties for first time drunk driving offenders and offenders with blood alcohol content above .08 but less than .20., mandate participation in the interlock program for all offenders that have a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, and permanently revoke the license after a third conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving while intoxicated, or operating a vehicle while impaired.
  8. Establishment of a Major Crash Review Task Force that will consist of staff from MPD, DDOT, Office of Planning, the Bicycle Advisory Council, the Pedestrian Advisory Council and the Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Council. The Task Force will review crashes handled by the Major Crash Investigation Unit of the MPD.

We didn’t get everything we wanted here, but it is a step in the right direction to making D.C. a truly multi-modal city. The legislation is the culmination of the efforts of the Bicycle Pedestrian Working Group convened by Councilmember Cheh last summer, on which our Executive Director Greg Billing served.  As-introduced, this bill represented the consensus items of that working group—which meant some good ideas generated by the group were not aired in the legislative process. Despite initial consensus, stop as yield (aka, the Idaho stop) was removed from the bill amidst last-minute opposition by AAA and MPD.  WABA also pushed the Council to include a city-wide speed limit on local streets of 20 mph and a city-wide ban on right turns at red lights; neither of which are included. Additionally, while other major components of the Mayor’s Vision Zero bill were incorporated into the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act, distracted driving provisions were not included. We hope to see those provisions strengthened and combined into a stand-alone bill next legislative session. 

One step closer to reforming Contributory Negligence in DC

At the #FixContrib Rally

At the #FixContrib Rally

Today the DC Council voted unanimously to approve the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015  as part of the consent agenda. This vote is a huge step towards final passage of the bill, and is the result of years of organizing efforts. In spite of roadblocks, delay, and concerted opposition from AAA and the insurance lobby, we’re the closest we’ve ever been to changing the unfair doctrine of contributory negligence for vulnerable road users.

The bill has now cleared the major obstacles to passage. The Council will vote on the bill a second time in late September / early October, after which it will require a signature by Mayor Bowser, and will undergo a 30 day Congressional review.

We would never have gotten to this point without our members and supporters. Thank you for becoming an expert on this arcane issue, signing petitions, sharing information with your networks, writing and calling your Councilmembers, attending rallies, and all the other ways you’ve leant your support to this campaign.

Kudos to the D.C. Council for doing the right thing. In particular, we recognize the leadership of Councilmember Mary Cheh for crafting, introducing and championing the bill, Councilmember McDuffie for bringing it before the Council, and Councilmembers Allen, Silverman, Grosso, Evans, and Nadeau for their early and steadfast support. This is a huge step towards a necessary reform that’s been a long time coming.

We’re so close, but we’re not done yet. We will stay vigilant through the final stages of the process to ensure there are no surprises, and keep you updated along the way.

The Fix Contrib bill has been delayed another two weeks

At the #FixContrib Rally

At the #FixContrib Rally

On Tuesday, the DC Council voted to postpone acting on the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 until July 12th. The legislation would repeal DC’s unfair and punitive contributory negligence standard for bicyclists and pedestrians involved in crashes with drivers.

While we commend the Council, particularly Councilmembers Cheh and McDuffie, for attempting to fix this unfair situation, we call on the Council to act quickly and decisively to adopt the Act on July 12th. There are real world, daily consequences that come with deferring action on this bill. Only an hour after the bill was postponed, a woman riding a Capital Bikeshare bike was critically injured in a crash with a motor vehicle. The details of yesterday’s crash are unknown to us but it highlights the absolute and day-by-day urgency to protect bicyclists and pedestrians who are hit by drivers. Our thoughts are with the injured victim, her friends, co-workers, and family.

Tuesday’s Council meeting, which we expected would result in passage of the bill after the first reading, began with an unexpected request. Councilmember McDuffie requested withdrawal of the bill and postponement of consideration until the next regularly scheduled meeting in October. Councilmember Cheh opposed this, sparking a procedural debate. The result is that the vote on this crucial bill has been postponed until July 12th.

It’s clear that Councilmembers McDuffie and Cheh both support fixing contributory negligence, as is evident in the overall support of the bill and elaborated on in the Judiciary Committee’s report. It’s also clear that a majority of the Councilmembers support changing the law. The question now is how to do it.

The current bill would allow for 100% recovery of damages in cases where the bicyclist or pedestrian is less negligent than the driver. In circumstances where the cyclist or pedestrian is found more negligent than the driver, the recovery is zero. This is the strongest legislation for vulnerable road users. It recognizes the unique and exposed nature of people walking and biking, and give them full recovery when they are injured by negligent drivers. We believe that this is the best approach to changing the current regime and that Council should pass the existing bill.

The alternative approach floated by Councilmember McDuffie in yesterday’s meeting appears to propose a different comparative negligence model. While the exact language of the Councilmember’s proposal is unknown, it is our understanding that his proposal would not only bar vulnerable users at 50% fault or more from any recovery (as does the present bill), but it would also reduce the recoverable damages of any plaintiff by the amount the plaintiff found to be at fault. Put another way, a bicyclist or pedestrian who is found to be 10% at fault when getting hit by a car will not be able to recover the full amount of her medical bills, damages to her bike, or lost wages. Under the existing bill, the vulnerable road user would be able to recover all of her damages. While we would likely continue to support the bill if Councilmember McDuffie’s amendment passes (it is still a measurable improvement over the status quo), we support the bill without amendment.

We will continue remain respectful and passionate throughout this campaign, We ask our members, supporters and the greater bicycling and walking community to remain respectful in the debate too.

We strongly supports abolishing the unfair contributory negligence regime for vulnerable road users, and believe that quickly passing the existing bill before the Council is the best way to achieve that goal. We thank Judiciary Chair McDuffie for moving this bill out of committee and before the full DC Council. The bill, as introduced and amended in the Judiciary Committee, represents a carefully negotiated compromise between the involved stakeholders and should be passed without further delay.

 

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

Multi-modal Memorial Bridge?

In the spring of 2013 the National Park Service initiated the public process to rehabilitate the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The partial closure and rehabilitation of the bridge represents a huge opportunity to rethink how the bridge operates in the context of the city’s transportation network.  Unfortunately, instead of seizing this opportunity, the Park Service defined the scope of the project extremely narrowly— focusing on arcane questions about upgrades to the “bascule spans” (the parts of the bridge that make it work as a drawbridge).

Does anyone actually care about what structure engineering methods NPS uses to rehabilitate bascule spans? Probably not. What we do care about is the fact that millions of visitors and commuters cross Arlington Memorial Bridge annually by foot, bike, and car. As bicycle and pedestrian travel rapidly increases region-wide, it’s time to rethink how all transportation modes on the bridge are accommodated.

The bridge is 90 feet wide with six car travel lanes and two 15-foot sidewalks. The speed limit for vehicles on the bridge is 30 miles per hour, with drivers often dangerously exceeding the legal limit. During busy tourist seasons, the sidewalks are full of visitors walking between the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. Sidewalk congestion is complicated by bicyclists and pedestrians sharing limited space.  

The opportunity:

During construction, the bridge will be partially closed. Two years ago, after an initial study on regional traffic patterns, traffic engineers determined that a closure of one of the three lanes in each direction would only minimally impact traffic on other bridges that cross the Potomac River.  This has been borne out by experience: since late last fall, the Memorial bridge has been operating with a total of four travel lanes, without any resulting traffic armageddon.

The third vehicle lane in both directions should be permanently repurposed as a single protected travel lane for bicycle traffic. This would provide dedicated space for pedestrians on the sidewalk, and a safe, unobstructed passage across the bridge for bicyclists.  

The bridge rehabilitation is a chance for NPS to be forward-thinking about design. The National Mall is planning to build a visitor center at the Vietnam War Memorial, which will likely increase travel between the Vietnam War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, as it is a short walk or ride between the two, and serviced on both sides of the bridge by Capital Bikeshare stations. There are also plans to redesign the Lincoln Circle (aka: the bike/ped no-man’s land between the Lincoln Memorial and the Memorial bridge on the D.C. side).

The viewshed in both directions along the bridge is highly valued and should be honored. Through this process, the Park Service could and should be considering designs for dedicated space for bicyclists that fits the aesthetic of the bridge, like low decorative planters or concrete curbs.

WABA and supporters raised these issues nearly three years ago.

Unfortunately, the Park Service has not listened, and continues to move forward with an Environmental Assessment structured to protect the status quo. There is another comment period closing on Monday, May 16th. Take a moment to submit comments telling NPS you want this project to address not just the bridge’s structure, but how the bridge functions in city life, by creating dedicated protected bike lanes and safe connections for walking and biking to and from the bridge.

Submit comments on the project site website using this link.

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.