Harris bill to protect vulnerable victims in accidents heads to the Senate

A bill that would allow judges to hold negligent drivers to greater accountability and protect vulnerable victims of accidents has been voted off the House floor.

House Bill 1112, from Rep. Paul Harris, would allow judges, at their discretion, to impose criminal penalties for negligent driving involving the death of a vulnerable victim. It would also create a gross misdemeanor offense of negligent driving with a vulnerable victim in the first degree.

“I introduced this legislation last year because a constituent came to me with a tragic story,” said Harris. “He lost his daughter in a freak accident. The driver claimed to be swatting at a bug when he ran over this young woman. He simply paid a fine and walked away. It didn’t matter that he took a life.”

HB 1112 would allow for a person to be found guilty of an offense when he or she operates a vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers, or is likely to endanger, any person or property and causes the death of someone using a public way.

“Unfortunately, it took an extra year to get this bill here, but it needs to become law. This legislation would correct a problem within our justice system by allowing judges to evaluate these situations on a case-by-case basis,” said Harris. “If the judge finds that a driver acted negligently, then he could impose a harsher punishment.

“Under current law, a person can get into a car, swat at a bug, and run over a mailbox. They could pay a $250 fine and be done. The problem is the same rules apply even if they end up killing another human being. That’s not right. Judges should be able to reconsider the facts of these kinds of cases and impose penalties that closer fit the crime.”

If signed into law, the offense would be punishable by up to 364 days of imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, which may not be reduced below $1,000, and suspension of driving privileges for 90 days.

The bill now heads to the state Senate for further consideration.

The 2023 legislative session is scheduled to end on April 23.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov