Disappointing members of the city’s bike community, the D.C. Council on Tuesday postponed action on a bill that would make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to collect damages when they are involved in collisions with vehicles.
Supporters of the change had hoped the D.C. Council would vote Tuesday and finally bring to an end years of work on a bill to change the city’s liability rules for bicyclists and pedestrians. But after little discussion on the proposal, and at the request of Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), the panel voted to postpone the vote until its next meeting.
The decision means the Council won’t get a chance to have a final vote on the bill until it returns from summer recess in the fall. Each bill needs two readings, and July 12 is the Council’s last legislative meeting before recess.
The proposal would reform the city’s “contributory negligence” doctrine to a modified comparative negligence standard, which dictates how the responsibility for a collision would be shared between the parties involved. That would give pedestrians and cyclists a greater chance to collect damages.
It would essentially change current law establishing that in order for a cyclist or pedestrian to collect insurance the incident must be 100 percent the driver’s fault. Under the proposal if a bicyclist is less than 50 percent at fault in an accident, he or she would be able to receive full compensation for damages.
Earlier in the meeting, Council Chairman Phil Mendelsom (D)– at the request of McDuffie — attempted to withdraw the bill from the agenda, provoking protests among members supporting the measure, with council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) appealing the decision and bringing the proposal back on the agenda. The majority of the Council then voted to postpone the vote.
McDuffie has said he supports ending contributory negligence but called the current bill flawed. The disagreement among Council members has centered on those objections and whether the law goes too far to give bicyclists and pedestrians the right to collect full damages even if they are partially at fault in an accident.
McDuffie was expected to introduce an amendment that would make the compensation based on the degree of fault of the cyclist, a model that is in line with what other states have adopted. For example if the cyclists was 20 percent at fault, the compensation would be reduced by 20 percent.
The delayed vote drew immediate criticism from the bike community.
“Injured victims must wait longer for a bill to pass,” Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association said in a Tweet. “They are the ones who lost today.”
In an interview, Billing said after more than a year of the proposal stuck in committee, the community expected a vote that would give pedestrians and bike commuters greater protections on the road. He said about 1,600 people who bike or walk are involved in collisions with vehicles each year.
Now the challenge, he said, is in trying to find a consensus model for how to end contributory negligence that the Council can agree on.
“We support changing the law,” he said. “Both models will get us there.”
Before the meeting, some bike commuters rallied outside of City Hall in support of the legislation, holding signs that said “Pedestrians Deserve Fairness” and “Fairness for Crash Victims.”
Although advocates for cyclists and pedestrians support the change, the insurance industry has lobbied against it saying the switch would result in unintended consequences, including higher insurance premiums for D.C. residents.