If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of Washington, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, click the link to the specific State of Washington statutes in each section.
Here are the Washington car accident and traffic laws we’ll cover:
Pedestrians and Crosswalks
Drivers must stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian or bicycle to cross the roadway within an unmarked or marked crosswalk when the pedestrian or bicycle is in the path of the vehicle.
Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways
No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.
Pedestrian Control Signals
Whenever pedestrian control signals exhibiting the words “Walk” or the walking person symbol or “Don’t Walk” or the hand symbol are operating, the signals must indicate as follows:
- WALK or walking person symbol: Pedestrians facing such signal may cross the roadway in the direction of the signal. Drivers must stop for pedestrians who are lawfully moving within the intersection control area on such signal.
- Steady or flashing DON’T WALK or hand symbol: Pedestrians facing such signal shall not enter the roadway. Drivers must stop for pedestrians who have begun to cross the roadway before the display of either signal.
- Pedestrian control signals having the “Wait” legend indicate the same as the “Don’t Walk” legend.
Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks
Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.
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.
Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks
The driver of a vehicle or a bicycle crossing a sidewalk must yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and or bicycle on the sidewalk.
Pedestrians Under the Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
A law enforcement officer may offer to transport a pedestrian who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or any drug and who is walking or moving along or within the right-of-way of a public roadway, unless the pedestrian is to be taken into protective custody for treatment.
The law enforcement officer offering to transport an intoxicated pedestrian must transport the intoxicated pedestrian to a safe place, or release the intoxicated pedestrian to a competent person.
The law enforcement officer must take no action if the pedestrian refuses this assistance.
Obedience to Traffic Control Devices
A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
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
- Upon a roadway with three marked lanes of traffic
- Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
- Upon a highway having three lanes or less, when approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, tow truck or other vehicle providing roadside assistance while operating warning lights with three hundred sixty degree visibility, or police vehicle
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.
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 without coming within two hundred feet of oncoming traffic.
Passing On the Right
Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:
- When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
- When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
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
Drivers must not drive while using a mobile electronic device to read, write, or send text-based communications or while holding a mobile telephone to their ear, except to contact emergency services.
Drivers and Intersections
When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver to their right.
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.
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.
Bicyclists must obey traffic laws while traveling on public highways.
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 (2) abreast in a single lane.
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.
All motorcyclists must wear helmets while riding on roadways.
Motorcycles and Headlights
Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements
A person is guilty of negligent driving if he or she operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, and if the person seems intoxicated.
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.
Alcohol and Minors
A driver under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive upon any roadway if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.02% or higher, or a THC concentration above 0.00 and under 5.00.
Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death must give his or her name, address, insurance company, insurance policy number, and vehicle license number and must exhibit his or her vehicle driver’s license to any person involved in 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.
Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property
A driver involved in an accident resulting only in property damage must give his or her name, address, insurance company, insurance policy number, and vehicle license number and must exhibit his or her vehicle driver’s license to any person involved in the accident.
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 the name and address of the operator and 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 the name and address of the operator and owner of the vehicle.
Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or total damage to all property resulting in $500 or more must give notice to the nearest law enforcement authority within four days following the accident.
Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments
Any police officer who is present at the scene of any accident or knowledgeable about an accident that has resulted in a serious injury or death must make report the accident to the department.
Open Alcohol Container Law
A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage or consume a controlled substance while the car is traveling on Washington roadways.
An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle or in some other area of the vehicle not normally occupied by the driver or passengers if the vehicle does not have a trunk. The open container cannot be kept in the utility compartment or glove compartment.
Passengers of a hired vehicle and passengers in the living quarters of a motor home can possess an opened container.
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. In Washington, a driver is guilty of the offense of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher, or a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher.
Ignition Interlock Device
A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to 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.
Washington and Dram Shop Law
Washington does not have a Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.
A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.
According to Washington laws, it is illegal to sell alcohol to a minor or to any person who is apparently under the influence of liquor. In addition, a defendant’s intoxication may not be used as a defense.
Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits
In the State of Washington, 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:
- At least $25,000 per person
- At least $50,000 for two or more people
- $10,000 per occurrence for property damage
Washington Insurance Information
For information about auto insurance, see the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s website.
In Washington, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives. The claimant’s compensation is diminished by the amount of their negligence.
Example of Comparative 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 dollars 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 using a mobile device 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 awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.
Comparative Negligence: Section 4.22.005
Right of Way: Section 46.61.185
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 46.61.668
Washington’s Fault-based Car Insurance
In Washington, the law gives car owners must purchase liability insurance and the at-fault driver is liable for compensating victims in a car accident. The victim in a car accident can seek compensation for their injuries and property damage by filing a claim with their own insurance company, or they can file a claim with the insurance company of the at-fault driver or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
For information about auto insurance, see the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s website.
Statute of Limitations
Washington 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 file a lawsuit within the three (3) year period following the accident, otherwise the victim is barred from pursuing the negligent driver in court.
Small Claims Courts
In Washington, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $5,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.
For information about filing a small claims case, see the Washington Courts website.
Washington Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity
In Washington, 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. If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
If Melissa, an engineer with the Seattle Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Seattle would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused by her.
If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Seattle 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.
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