Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists from Unjust Law

Target: Washington, DC City Counsel Chairman Phil Mendelson

Goal: Protect thousands of cyclists and pedestrians in DC by ensuring passage of the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act.

Pedestrians and cyclists in the capital city of the United States may fear for their lives every time they step off the sidewalk due to an archaic and unjust law on the books. The District of Columbia, alongside Alabama, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina, is one of the only places in the US where those hit by a car can rightly be denied any compensation for their injuries.

Unlike most other states, DC has a “pure contributory negligence” statute. This means that even if a pedestrian or cyclist is found to be only one percent at fault during an accident (the driver who hit them assuming the other 99 percent), they can lose any lawsuits brought against the driver and be denied money needed to recover from their injuries. Under this law, cyclists riding safely in bike lanes or pedestrians crossing at designated crosswalks can be struck by a motorist and forced to pay their own medical bills.

These laws are archaic and based on the flawed concept that cyclists and pedestrians should almost never be in the road. On the contrary, DC is a city that encourages foot and bicycle traffic. The District offers miles of bike lanes and even keeps an ordinance in place that makes it illegal to bike on sidewalks in the downtown area. It is not only dangerous, but purely nonsensical to allow pure contributory negligence to persist.

Contributory negligence laws are specifically damaging to low-income residents, whose lives can be irreparably damaged by medical debt or serious injury. Large cities like DC should be working to make roads safer and more friendly for foot traffic and cyclists. These forms of travel are not only healthy, but reduce congestion, pollution, and other negative effects of automobile traffic.

Fortunately, the District has a chance to reverse this unfair law. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act was introduced to the DC City Council to put an end to contributory negligence and allow individuals to collect money for damages following a crash. Though it has already passed one vote unanimously, action must be taken to ensure it passes a second, final reading in the fall. Urge DC City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to protect the citizens of DC by contributing to the Act’s passage.


Dear Chairman Mendelson,

I was shocked to learn that DC is one of the only places in the US where pedestrians and cyclists hit by reckless drivers can be forced to pay their own medical bills. As I’m sure you’re aware, DC citizens are at the mercy of full contributory negligence, a law that can prevent individuals from recovering damages following an accident. Under this statute, individuals found to be even one percent at fault following an accident can be barred from collecting any payment for medical bills from the person who hit them.

Pure contributory negligence is not just nonsensical, but wildly dangerous. Pedestrians and cyclists must fear not only being seriously injured when they step off the sidewalk, but incurring medical debt and lost wages that could potentially ruin them. Your council already voted unanimously to pass the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act. I would like to express my support for this vote and hope you’ll see to it that it passes the second read this fall.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Dylan Passmore

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One Comment

  1. Before I sign anything they need a class on how to obey the laws of the road first. Bycyle riders think they own the road. If your going to be in the road where cars are obey the laws we as drivers have to. I see it daily and they should pay for there own medical if they abuse the laws of the streets. They have no clue!

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