Bill seeks to increase driver awareness of bikes, walkers

Rep. Brad Klippert wants to make drivers more aware of how to drive safely around pedestrians and bicyclists.

That's why he's trying to enlist other legislators to help pass his bill that would require specific training in traffic safety courses, which some courts use as a sentencing option for drivers who have committed traffic infractions.

Traffic accidents between a vehicle and a pedestrian or a bicyclist are tragic, said Klippert, R-Kennewick, who was a Benton County sheriff's deputy for 11 years.

And it's an issue that hits close to home. Last fall, the Tri-Cities counted six car-pedestrian accidents in September and October, noted Kay Olson, a registered nurse who works for Medcor at the Hanford site and is an instructor at Washington State University Tri-Cities in community health nursing.

Within three days in September, four pedestrians were struck in crosswalks by vehicles.

Klippert's House Bill 1129 would apply to drivers whom a judge orders to attend a traffic safety course as part of a deferred ticket, a sentence or a penalty from a traffic infraction.

Including the bicycle and pedestrian safety curriculum would remind those drivers how to drive correctly while near bicyclists and pedestrians, Klippert said.

Klippert sponsored a similar bill last year. The House passed it unanimously, but it stalled in the Senate. The House Committee on Transportation held the first public hearing for the bill Thursday. The committee sent it to the House floor for a vote, which has not been scheduled.

Klippert said the bill is a way to save lives without spending a penny of taxpayer money. That's because the curriculum already is provided to the state free of charge by the nonprofit Bicycle Alliance of Washington.

And the curriculum has been reviewed by the Department of Licensing, Klippert said.

Dave Janis, Bicycle Alliance policy director, said providing the training would help get the next tier of drivers trained and help keep pedestrians and bicyclists safer.

Young drivers already get the training in driver's education courses, he told the House transportation committee.

But state driving programs only recently have been required to include information about driving safely around pedestrians and bicyclists, according to the bill.

Olson said she researched pedestrian safety as part of her master's thesis at WSU Tri-Cities. What she found was that in accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles, the fault was evenly split.

But while there already was education for pedestrians, the driver's side seemed to be missing, she said.

"I think that it's time that we start educating the drivers," she told the House committee.

Pasco Municipal Court, Franklin County District Court and Benton County District Court do not use traffic school as a sentencing option. One court official said it's not an option that's been discussed yet.