OLYMPIA - A bill increasing the penalties for drivers who intentionally fail to yield to emergency or police vehicles passed the state Senate unanimously this past Tuesday.
Senate Bill 5038, sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. If it is approved by the House and signed by the governor, it takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the session.
"One ambulance company in Yakima reported 222 calls in two weeks and 65 of them involved occurrences of failure to yield to the ambulance using full lights and sirens," said Honeyford, a former Ellensburg police officer. "The Washington State Patrol Troopers Association and the Washington State Council of Police and Sheriffs are both in support of the bill."
Under Honeyford's bill, the current penalty of $101 for failure to yield to emergency vehicles could increase to a maximum of a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine if a person negligently, intentionally, knowingly or recklessly fails to yield or move over for emergency vehicles or police cars.
The idea for Honeyford's bill came from his constituent and neighbor, John Cullen. A resident of Outlook in Yakima County, Cullen learned from his doctor that he barely made it to the hospital in time for emergency open-heart surgery when cars refused to move out of the way for his ambulance.
In June 2003, Cullen was rushed to Kennewick General Hospital after he collapsed on a golf course from a suspected heart attack. The doctor at Kennewick General discovered a tear in Cullen's aorta and promptly joined Cullen in the ambulance to Kadlec Medical Center for open-heart surgery.