District of Columbia Car Accident and Personal Injury Laws

Here’s the District of Columbia traffic and injury liability laws you need. Get the injury compensation you deserve from a negligent motorist.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the District of Columbia, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and personal injury claim.

You’re entitled to seek compensation from a negligent motorist whether you were walking, riding, or driving another vehicle when the collision occurred.

In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. For your convenience, we’ve summarized each section and provided a link to the text of  each District of Columbia regulation.

The District of Columbia Municipal Regulations are revised frequently. See the District of Columbia Register for weekly updates.

Pedestrian Traffic Laws

Pedestrians and Crosswalks

No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb, safety platform, safety zone, loading platform, or other designated place of safety and walk or turn into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.

No pedestrian shall cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless authorized by official traffic control devices.

When authorized to cross diagonally, pedestrians shall cross only in accordance with the official traffic control devices pertaining to such crossing movements.

DCMR § 18-2303

Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways

No pedestrian must enter any marked or unmarked crosswalk when traffic is so close that it might constitute an immediate hazard.

DCMR § 18-2305

Pedestrian Control Signals

A pedestrian is subject to all traffic control signals.

DCMR § 18-2302

Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks

Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection must yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.

No pedestrian shall cross a roadway at any place other than by a route at right angles to the curb or by the shortest route to the opposite curb, except in a crosswalk.

DCMR Code § 18-2304

Pedestrians on Roadway

Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway. Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it’s shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.

DCMR § 18-2305

Pedestrians Must Yield to Emergency Vehicles

Upon the approach of an authorized emergency vehicle, pedestrians shall yield right-of-way and immediately proceed to the nearest point of safety.

DCMR § 18-2305

District of Columbia Driving Laws

Obedience to Traffic Control Devices

A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver. Any stop required shall be made at a sign or marking on the pavement indicating where the stop shall be made; Provided, that in the absence of any sign or marking, the stop shall be made at the signal.

DCMR § 18-203

Driving on Right Side of Roadway

Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:

  • When passing another driver in the same direction
  • When there is an obstruction in the right lane
  • Where the roadway is divided into three (3) or more lanes
  • Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic

Passing On the Left

Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane.

Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.

DCMR 18-2202

Limitations on Overtaking on the Left

Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane safely.

DCMR § 18-2202

Passing On the Right

Drivers may pass on the right where allowed, except for the following conditions:

(a)When approaching the crest of a grade or upon a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard if another vehicle approaches from the opposite direction;

(b)When approaching within one hundred feet (100 ft.) of or while traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing;

(c)On the roadway of any bridge, viaduct, or tunnel; and

(d)On the approach roadway within one hundred feet (100 ft.) of any bridge, viaduct, or tunnel.

DCMR § 18-2202

Following Too Closely

A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway.

A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.

Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices

No person shall use a mobile telephone or other electronic device while operating a moving motor vehicle in the District of Columbia unless the telephone or device is equipped with a hands-free accessory, unless the device is used to call for emergency services.

DCMR § 50-1731.04

Drivers and Intersections

When two drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver in the right.

DCMR § 18-2203

Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections

A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.

DCMR § 18-2204

Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway

A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other drivers on the roadway to be crossed.

Bicycling Laws

Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.

DCMR § 18-201

Motorcycling Laws


Motorcyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.

DCMR § 18-2215

Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic

Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway.

A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two  abreast in a single lane.

DCMR § 18-2215

“Lane Splitting”

Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as “lane splitting,” motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper.

To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.

DCMR § 18-2215

Helmet Law

All motorcyclists must wear helmets while riding on roadways. If the motorcycle is not equipped with a windshield, then motorcyclists must also wear protective eyewear while riding on roadways.

DCMR § 18-2215

Driving Offenses and Accident Rules

Reckless Driving

A driver who drives in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.

DCMR § 55-2401

Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person, including other drivers, passengers, and/ or passersby must give their name, address and the registration number of the car they are driving and must upon request, exhibit their driver’s license and information relating to financial responsibility (insurance) to any person injured in the accident, or to the driver, passengers, and/or police officers investigating the accident.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.

The driver must also immediately report the accident to the nearest office of an authorized police authority and provide their name, address, registration number and insurance information.

DCMR § 50-2201.5c

Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person must immediately stop and remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 20-104, including providing their information, rendering aid, and reporting the accident to the police.

DCMR § 50-2201.5c

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property

A driver involved in an accident resulting only in damage to property or another car which is driven or attended by any person must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 20-104.

DCMR § 50-2201.5c

Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property

A driver who collides with a parked car or who collides with other property which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.

Once located the driver who caused the accident must give their name, address, their insurance information, the registration number of the car being driven, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle.

If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver who caused the accident must attach a written note to the damaged property in a conspicuous place giving their name, address, their insurance information, the registration number of the car being driven, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle.

DCMR § 50-2201.5c

Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department

Any person who operates or who is in physical control of a vehicle within the District who knows or has reason to believe that his or her vehicle has been in a collision shall immediately stop.

Where another person is injured, the driver must call or cause another to call 911 or call or cause another to call for an ambulance or other emergency assistance if necessary, remain on the scene until law enforcement arrives, and provide identifying information to law enforcement and to the injured person

DCMR § 50-2201.5c

Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments

When an officer arrives on the scene for an automobile accident or for a simple assault, he or she may write an Accident Report (PD-10) or an Incident/Offense Report (PD-251).

Copies of the PD-10 are usually available to first party requestors at no charge and insurance companies for claim purposes at a fee $3 for each PD requested.

District of Columbia Metropolitan Police

Open Alcohol Container Law

An occupant of a vehicle must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage or consume a controlled substance while the car is traveling on District of Columbia roadways.

DCMR § 25-1001

Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance

A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways.

DCMR § 50-2206.11

Ignition Interlock Device

A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant and who has had a prior must have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device.

The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation.

If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.

An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device. If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge.

At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.

DCMR § 50-2201.5a

District of Columbia Injury Liability Laws

Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits

In the State of District of Columbia, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:

  • $25,000 per person
  • $50,000 for two (2) or more people
  • $10,000 for property damage

Additionally, auto policies must contain Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage.

Contributory Negligence

In the District of Columbia, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their contributory negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.

If the victim contributed at all to accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.

Example of Contributory Negligence

One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.

Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 worth of damages.

After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.

Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way.

At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for texting while driving and partially responsible for the accident.

The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury was barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.

District of Columbia’s No Fault Car Insurance

In the District of Columbia, the law requires car owners to purchase no-fault car insurance. No-fault insurance allows a person, who is injured in a car accident or whose property is damaged, to file a claim with their own car insurance company.

No-fault insurance allows a person to avoid pursuing a negligent driver for compensation for damages. No-fault insurance does not compensate for pain and suffering, and the amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance purchased by the injured party determines their coverage.


Statute of Limitations

District of Columbia has a three (3) year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must either settle their claim within three (3) years, or file a lawsuit.

If the victim fails to settle their claim or file a lawsuit within the three (3) year period the victim is barred from pursuing the negligent driver in court.

DCMR § 12-301/disclaimer]

Small Claims Courts

In District of Columbia, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. District of Columbia’s the jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $10,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.

For information about filing in small claims court, visit the District of Columbia Courts webpage.

District of Columbia Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity

In District of Columbia, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties.

Prior District of Columbia codes related to sovereign immunity have been repealed.

Example: Government Employee Causes Car Accident

If Melissa, an engineer with the DC Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the District of Columbia would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused her.

If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the District of Columbia can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.

To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.

Additional District of Columbia Resources