The District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) is designed on a grid. The U.S. Capitol is the center and the grid radiates out with north/south streets numbered and east/west streets lettered. In addition, the city has 36 roundabouts.
A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that roundabouts are safer than traffic signals and stop signs. A driver is forced to proceed slowly through a circle, and the most common types of intersection collisions — right angle, left turn, and head-on — are less likely to happen. (source)
The District of Columbia had a population of 705,749 in 2019. Residents traveled 3,756 vehicle miles that year. There were 23 traffic fatalities—or a rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,00 residents, which was a lower rate than any state in the U.S.
The states (and district) with the 10 lowest fatality rates in 2019 included:
|State / district||Traffic fatalities in 2019||Deaths per 100,000 population||Deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled|
|District of Columbia||23||3.3||0.61|
It's important to note that this data should be taken in context, considering that D.C. is a city district and not a state—which serves to account for the low fatality numbers compared to largely populated states like New York and New Jersey. Naturally, D.C. and smaller states (such as Rhode Island) will have fewer accident deaths.
A better comparison is the "Deaths per 100,000 population" column, which provides a clearer picture of the crash fatality rate. In that measure, D.C. still ranks as having the lowest fatality rate.
The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles says there are nearly 450,000 drivers registered in the District, but this area is unique. A significant number of people who spend time within the District for work, school, or other reasons regularly commute in from neighboring states. In addition, tens of millions of people visit D.C. each year and many arrive in their own vehicles.
Even though D.C. doesn't have as much of a residential population as large cities like New York City or Los Angeles, it is home to some of the worst traffic in the country. While lots of people travel the city in their own private vehicles, there's also a lot of traffic from taxis and ride-sharing vehicles like Ubers or Lyfts.
That means plenty of potential for a car crash. Fortunately, most are fender-benders or minor accidents that result in vehicle damage and minor personal injury, if any.
If you are involved in a car accident, you should know the laws specific to the District and how to handle insurance claims and a personal injury lawsuit, if necessary.
Each state (including the District) has either a no-fault system or a fault system for car accidents.
The first thing that will be important after a collision is to determine who's at fault — in other words, who caused the accident. Sometimes it's clear because a driver made a mistake or was reckless. In other circumstances, it's less clear and requires significant accident investigation and reconstruction to determine exactly what happened.
In the majority of states, the driver who caused the accident is responsible for paying the costs of the injured parties' damages. If the insurance companies can't reach an agreement, the injured plaintiffs may file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
This can include expenses for medical treatment, lost wages, and other costs related to the accident.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance covers your medical treatment after an accident injury. Insurance companies are required to offer no-fault PIP insurance to D.C. drivers, in addition to your required liability coverage. However, you're not required to purchase it.
Although it's optional, PIP insurance is important.
In Washington, D.C., PIP covers:
The major benefit to PIP is that if you're injured in an accident, your medical bills can be paid right away, rather than waiting for the insurance company to determine who was at fault.
However, PIP does not cover lost wages or pain and suffering. It's solely for medical expenses.
After an accident in the District, you have 60 days in which to elect to use your no-fault option or to file a claim against the at-fault driver. If you choose no-fault, you are not permitted to submit a claim against the driver later.
There are 2 exceptions, however:
A "significant impairment" is a permanent impairment, scarring, or disability that lasts 6 months or longer. If you meet these criteria, you may file a claim on your own PIP policy and a claim against the at-fault driver's policy.
Again, though, this must be filed within 60 days of the date of the accident.
Each state (and the District) follows 1 of 4 fault systems. These laws determine how much a plaintiff can recover in an accident where the plaintiff shares some responsibility for the injury.
But wait… you just said that D.C. follows no-fault rules and a plaintiff can receive benefits from their own insurance company, regardless of who is at fault!
Yes, both are true.
You can make a claim for PIP (no-fault) medical benefits from your insurance company. Because it's no-fault insurance, your claim should not be denied because of contributory negligence. However, you would not be able to recover damages in a lawsuit because of this negligence standard.
Defendant Diana picked up a friend at Washington Union Station and was planning to drop them off at a hotel near the U.S. Capitol. She drove through Columbus Circle and proceeded up Louisiana Avenue NW. However, the friends decided to take a detour and grab a bite to eat near Stanton Park. Diane turned left onto North Capitol Street NW in order to cut toward D Street. As she merged from North Capitol Street onto D St., Diane failed to look to her right and she didn't see Plaintiff Pete approaching in his car from that direction.
Diane's and Pete's vehicles collided at the merge intersection. Both had damage to their cars and suffered injuries that required some medical treatment (including Diane's passenger).
Although Diane was clearly liable because she merged without looking to her right, it was discovered that Pete was taking a quick glance at an incoming text on his phone at the time they collided.
The insurance investigators determined that if Pete had not been looking at his phone, he would have seen Diane move onto D St. and could have braked in time to prevent a collision. Therefore, Pete was found 20% liable for the collision.
Pete was able to claim benefits under his no-fault PIP insurance but could not make a claim against Diane's insurance (or file a lawsuit) for the amount of money he paid out of pocket that was above the maximum paid by his insurance policy.
You are a customer of an insurance company, but you're not a client. You've already paid your premiums to have insurance, and the insurance company's profit is based on paying out less in settlements than what it takes in from premiums. Therefore, your own insurance company will look for any reason to deny your claim because that's how it makes a profit.
By contrast, most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis. That means they don't earn money unless and until you receive a settlement or verdict payout. Your lawyer's role is to review and analyze the evidence in order to minimize your liability for the accident. Since any liability means you can't recover damages, your lawyer's expertise will be particularly important in a pure contributory negligence jurisdiction.
If you need to file a lawsuit for a car accident in DC, you have 3 years from the date of the accident in which to do so. You're also required to provide written notice to the defendant's insurance company when a claim is filed.
The reason we drive or ride in a car is usually because we have somewhere to go — and we want to get there quickly. In today's world, there are so many distractions — it's not just mobile phones (although those are ubiquitous and dangerous when used while driving). It's also the general hurry of our lives. We're busy, so we eat breakfast in the car on the way to work, we see a gathering happening outside and crane our necks to read the signs, we get lost in thought about what we need to do.
In D.C., there's also often the possibility of an unexpected detour or slowdown because of a presidential motorcade.
But distracted driving is a major problem and one of the most frequent causes of a car accident.
Here's a look at the top 10 causes of car accidents:
Being aware of stop signs and traffic lights is particularly important in D.C. where there are so many tourists and visitors. Drivers and pedestrians who aren't familiar with the city will probably be distracted by their navigation systems, so they might not be paying close attention to traffic.
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more