Washington drivers have a duty to drive at a speed that is reasonable and prudent under the conditions, and with due regard to actual and potential hazards.

Driving in excess of the posted speed limit is evidence of negligence. However, driving over the speed limit does not is not in and of itself make a driver liable for another person’s injuries. The injured party must prove that the driver’s was not reasonable and prudent under the conditions, and that the speed caused the auto accident.[1]

A driver may sometimes be liable even when driving at a speed lower than the posted limit. Inclement weather or other conditions may require that drivers maintain a speed lower than the posted speed limit.  A Washington statute indicates that “[c]ompliance with speed requirements…shall not relieve the operator of any vehicle from the further exercise of due care and caution as further circumstances shall require.”[2]  Washington courts have held that this statute indicates that “under certain conditions, the lawful speed may be less than the posted speed limit.”[3]

Likewise, driving too slowly may also be negligent under some circumstances.[4]

Washington drivers must reduce speed under certain specific conditions. Washington law requires drivers to reduce speed when

·       approaching and crossing an intersection,

·       approaching and crossing a railway grade crossing,

·       approaching and going around a curve,

·       approaching a hill crest,

·       traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway,

·       passing any marked school or playground crossing, and

·       driving in conditions of restricted visibility, such as fog, dust storms, or heavy rain.[5]

Even a favored driver must reduce speed in these situations.[6]  However, a favored driver’s excessive speed is not considered a legal cause of an accident if the “favored driver’s automobile is where it is entitled to be, and the favored driver would have been unable to avoid the collision even if driving at a lawful speed.”[7] Speed is not considered a cause of an accident “”if it does no more than bring the favored and disfavored drivers to the same location at the same time, and the favored driver has the right to be at that location.”[8]

This brief description of the issue of vehicle speed in Washington state auto accident personal injuries cases illustrates that there are many factors to consider. Legal analysis of speed and other factors in an auto accident case may not be cut-and-dried.

If you have been injured in an auto accident you should protect your interests by seeking a free personal injury case evaluation without delay.


[1] RCW 46.61.400(2); RCW 5.40.050. But see Yurkovich v. Rose, 68 Wn. App. 643, 847 P.2d 925, review denied, 121 Wn.2d 1029 (1993); Grobe v. Valley Garbage Serv., Inc., 87 Wn.2d 217,220-21,551 P.2d 748 (1976).
[2] RCW 46.61.445;
[3] Hough v. Ballard, 108 Wn. App. 272, 287, 31 P.3d 6 (2001) (quoting Owens v. City of Seattle, 49 Wn.2d 187, 193,299 P.2d 560 (1956)).
[4] Mina v. Boise Cascade Corp., 37 Wn. App. 445, 449-50, 681 P.2d 880 (1984), aff’d, 104 Wn.2d 696, 710 P.2d 184 (1985) (potential liability for driving too slowly through fog). In Martini v. State, 121 Wn. App. 150, 160-62,89 P.3d 250 (2004), review denied, 153 Wn.2d 1023 (2005)(potential liability when a truck driver failed to activate his hazard flashers when traveling three miles per hour on the interstate).
[5] RCW 46.61.400(3); RCW 46.61.440; Miller v. Edwards, 25 Wn.2d 635, 644-45, 171 P.2d 821 (1946); Woodward v. Simmons, 7Wn.2dl0,19, 108P.2d637 (1941); Ewer v. Johnson, 44 Wn.2d 746,756-57, 270P.2d813 (1954), Pidduck v.Henson, 2 Wn. App. 204, 205-06, 467 P.2d 322 (1970); Blaak v. Davidson, 84 Wn.2d 882, 884, 529 P.2d 1048 (1975).
[6] Hough v. Ballard, 108 Wn. App. 272, 284, 31 P.3d 6 (2001).
[7] Channel v. Mills, 77 Wn. App. 268, at 276-77, 890 P.2d 535 (1995.
[8] Channel, 77 Wn. App. at 277.