Rules of the Road

Why Do They Matter?

When you use a public street in Washington State as a driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian, your conduct is tightly regulated by both state and local law. The rules which apply throughout the state can be found in Chapter 46.61 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). If you use the public roadways of Washington, it is a good idea to become familiar with these “rules of the road.” Why is this?

Safety is the main reason. When users of the roadway follow the rules, the expectations of other users are met, and the chance of an injury-causing collision decreases. On the other hand, when a person breaks these rules, the risk that a collision will occur increases.

A secondary reason is that breaking the rules of the road is evidence of negligence. When a collision occurs on a public roadway, a personal injury lawsuit often follows. In that litigation, a jury will be tasked with determining how negligent each party was in the moments before the collision. If a driver rear ends another car while speeding, for example, a jury will likely find that driver to be 100% at fault, as he or she was breaking at least two rules of the road: following too closely (RCW 46.61.145) and exceeding the speed limit (RCW 46.61.400).

Keep in mind that even if the other driver is primarily at fault, the amount of money you recover in a personal injury lawsuit can be reduced if you were also negligent. For example, say that you are hit by a car approaching from behind while you are walking along a road without sidewalks. If you were walking on the right side of the road instead of the left, you broke the rule of the road requiring that pedestrians walk on the side of the roadway facing approaching traffic (RCW 46.61.250). A jury is entitled to take this fact as evidence that you were partially at fault in the collision and reduce your damages accordingly. This results in a reduction of your recovery by the percentage of fault attributed to you. So, if the jury was to attribute 20% of the fault to you because you violated that law, your recovery would be reduced by 20% (your $1,000,000 recovery, for example, would be reduced to $800,000).

It is a good idea to become acquainted with all of the rules of the road set forth in Chapter 46.61. Even though some of these rules are obscure, the fact that you broke one or more of them can be used against you in personal injury litigation. Did you know, for example, that you are required by state law to slow down when you approach any intersection (RCW 46.61.400(3))? Or that it is illegal (and evidence of reckless driving) to embrace another person while driving (RCW 46.61.665)? Or that a bicyclist may not carry a package which prevents him or her from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars (RCW 46.61.775)?

And don’t overlook the fact that cities and towns may have their own rules of the road which supplement the state rules. These municipal rules of the road can be even more obscure than the little-known state laws. Say that you live or work in the city of Tacoma. You will want to familiarize yourself with Title 11 of the Tacoma Municipal Code, which contains the rules of the road which apply in that city. If you fail to do this, you may not realize that you are breaking the law each time you eat or drink while operating a vehicle upon a Tacoma roadway (TMC 11.05.130). Therefore, if you collide with another user of the roadway while eating a hot dog or drinking a soda, the fact that you were violating that ordinance is admissible in a lawsuit to show that you were at least partially at fault for the collision.

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