Jun 21

Jon Zimmerman

A Single Traffic Ticket that Will Suspend Your License and Result in a Fine of More Than $10,000

by Jon Zimmerman

Five years ago a law took effect that severely penalized drivers who drive negligently, endanger or drive in manner that would likely endanger persons/and or property, and the driver proximately causes the death, great bodily harm, or substantial bodily harm of a vulnerable user of a public way. This offense is enforced by way of a traffic citation issued to the driver, and the offense is called negligent driving in the second degree with a vulnerable user victim.

Today, more prosecutors are using this civil law to take money from unsuspecting drivers and in an attempt to penalize drivers with a severe traffic ticket, even innocent drivers who might not be at fault for the accident.

Now, you might be asking why this law is new. After all, wasn’t this type of conduct already criminal? Well, certainly this conduct could, with some other facts, constitute a crime under certain circumstances such as vehicular assault or vehicular homicide, but not every driving offense is a crime and there is not always intent to hit someone with a car each time a pedestrian or other vulnerable user is hit. Recognizing this result, the City of Seattle decided to implore the Legislature to pass a new law that could be used against drivers who have collisions with vulnerable users as a civil mechanism for punishing drivers.

Who is a Vulnerable User of a public way?

While the law does not define victim, a vulnerable user is a pedestrian, a person riding an animal, or an individual who operates on a public way an unenclosed farm tractor or farm implement, moped, motorcycle, bicycle, electric-assisted bicycle or personal assistive mobility device, a motorized foot scooter, or a motor-driven cycle.

“Why did I receive a ticket in the mail years later for more than $10,000 when I thought the case was over?!”

A big mistake drivers make is thinking that an insurance carrier will pick up the tab and life will go on. In addition to any criminal investigation to which drivers might be subject, drivers may now also face a civil government investigation even if criminal charges are not warranted, even if no lawsuit was filed by the vulnerable user, and even if the insurance carrier settled.

While the fines for this ticket can exceed $10,000, one of the harshest consequences (and there are many) is a suspension of the driving privilege for 90 days. While prosecutors often cry public safety, unfortunately many innocent drivers with clean records are surprised to discover that years after a collision, a prosecutor has decided to go after their money and driving privilege. After all, if public safety is a paramount concern, why did the prosecutors wait so long?

In any event, drivers should be aware that now more than ever, government officials are under a lot of pressure to prosecute motorists, even if no crime has been committed and even if an injured party is made whole.

Individuals who have been in a collision with a vulnerable user should consider obtaining competent legal counsel regardless of the circumstances of the collision.