City Attorney’s Office asks police officers to not cite collisions involving vulnerable users at the scene
Share the Road

When Heather was struck by a negligent driver in Sept. 2012, she fought hard to get the driver charged under the Vulnerable User law.

In an effort to ensure successful processing and prosecution of infractions, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office (SCAO) sent a memorandum to the Seattle Police Department last month to clarify the Vulnerable User Law and to caution officers responding to collisions involving “vulnerable users” to refer these cases to the Traffic Collision Investigation Squad for charging.

“Vulnerable user citations are appropriate where a person’s non-criminal negligent driving causes serious injury or death to a “vulnerable user,” which includes essentially anyone not in a passenger car or truck…the statute encompasses a wide range of potential scenarios, including everything from cases where a defendant’s failure to yield to a pedestrian resulted in a hairline fracture, to conduct falling just short of King County’s filing standards for “dry” vehicular homicide charges,” the memorandum states.

Under the Vulnerable User Law, which Cascade worked to pass through the Washington Legislature in 2011, a driver committing a traffic infraction that results in the serious injury or death of a vulnerable roadway user will face an automatic fine of up to $5,000 and a 90-day suspension of driving privileges.

Due to the serious nature of these violations, the SCAO asks that most of these cases are not charged at the scene, but rather be referred to the Traffic Collision Investigation Squad (TCIS) for referral to the SCAO for charging.

The SCAO’s memorandum states that the referral is particularly important because in some cases the extent of a vulnerable user victim’s injuries may not be immediately apparent to officers at the scene.

"A recent Seattle Municipal Court decision called into question our ability to issue vulnerable user infractions once another infraction related to the same collision has been found committed.  We successfully appealed this decision, but how this issue will play out over time remains to be seen.  To that end, we caution officers against issuing citations at the scene of collisions involving vulnerable users until they are aware of the extent of injuries suffered by the vulnerable user so TCIS and the SCAO can work together to determine whether a vulnerable user infraction or another infraction is appropriate,"  the memorandum states.

In the event that the vulnerable user’s injuries are clearly not serious, the SCAO suggests that the responding officer could issue the citation directly by sending it to the court for mailing, noting the date of issuance.

This memorandum comes after the SCAO was made aware at the end of 2012 of the lack of knowledge and implementation of the Vulnerable User charge by police officers responding to at least 60 collisions involving vulnerable users in the great Puget Sound Region.  

PREVIOUS STORY: Law enforcement and judiciary still in the dark about Vulnerable User Law  

Anne-Marije Rook
Anne-Marije Rook's picture