Rules of the road for ‘extra-fast pedestrians’ — skateboarders

State traffic law defines them as pedestrians, and yet they are often in the middle of the street.

Martin Messing, of Edmonds, wrote in about a recent close call he experienced with a skateboarder at a four-way stop on Bell Street at Fifth Avenue.

“I noticed a young man on a skateboard to my right moving at a pretty good clip approaching the intersection,” Messing wrote. “He was not on the sidewalk but in the left car lane, about a quarter of a block away. I started to enter the intersection to make a left turn. At the same time, he reached the intersection, and without stopping zipped right through. I stopped to avoid hitting him.

“This made me wonder,” Messing wrote, “since he was on four wheels was he obliged to stop for the stop sign?”

This is an interesting question, because it brings up the conflicting ways traffic laws treat skateboarders.

Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force and took a similar question in his “Rules of the Road” column for The Bellingham Herald.

Skateboarders provide a puzzle, in part because state traffic law defines them as pedestrians, along with others who travel by “means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle” (RCW 46.04.400).

“Whether you’re on a skateboard, roller skates, pogo stick or a red wagon, you’re a pedestrian in the eyes of the law,” Dahl wrote.

That means they should be up on the sidewalk, if there is one.

And yet plenty of folks have found themselves in situations similar to Messing, where a person propelling along on a skateboard is acting more like a person pedaling a bicycle — who has all the rights and responsibilities of a vehicle driver when on the road.

So, many cities have since set their own traffic laws for skateboards.

Edmonds is among them.

City code (5.46.050) states that “any person operating a skateboard, roller skates or a coaster shall obey the instructions of official traffic control signals, signs and other devices applicable to vehicles, unless otherwise directed by a police officer.”

In Messing’s encounter, “the skateboard should have stopped,” said Sgt. Shane Hawley of the Edmonds Police Department. “Under our city code, he is responsible to obey all traffic laws.”

Skateboarders also are prohibited from riding on sidewalks in the city’s downtown area.

Edmonds’ rules are fairly typical.

But the ways communities approach skateboards can vary widely.

In rural Darrington, skateboards are treated like bicycles — and horses — none of which are allowed on public sidewalks (10.04.180).

Mukilteo (9.58) and Sultan (10.16) each bar “negligent” use, and specifically require parents and guardians to keep their children in line.

Brier (10.12.020) and Lynnwood (11.58) have perhaps the most restrictive skateboard rules.

Both cities prohibit skateboards on roadways and from sidewalks in business areas. Each require skateboarders to yield to pedestrians when on a sidewalk, with Brier giving a 25-foot rule. The cities even detail how a skateboarder must roll — with at least one foot on the flat surface of the skateboard — with no sitting or lying down allowed.

Other cities with skateboard laws:

Arlington prohibits them from riding on sidewalks (10.84.110) and requires them to obey rules of the road (10.84.130).

Bothell allows for parks to post signs prohibiting skateboards (8.60.385).

Everett prohibits people from riding skateboards in a business district, and to yield to pedestrians when they’re on a sidewalk (46.72.040). City code also speaks to safety, by making it unlawful to skateboard “in a negligent manner” (46.72.020).

Gold Bar parks are off-limits (12.05.030).

Lake Stevens rules allow for the same restrictions, and also requires skateboards — as well as tricycles, dogs and others — to yield to pedestrians in parks (10.03.120).

Marysville prohibits skateboards and other “wheeled personal transportation” devices, such as bicycles, from any sidewalk when they hit speeds greater than 10 mph (12.20.010). Negligent or reckless riding also is prohibited.

Mill Creek allows for skateboard-free zones (10.16.010), including sidewalks, designated by signs. When allowed on sidewalks, they must yield to pedestrians and “give an audible signal before overtaking and passing every pedestrian” (10.16.020).

Monroe has some areas restricted to skateboards, including all roadways (10.16.030). Skateboarders also must operate “in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation, and shall obey all traffic-control devices” (10.16.020).

Mountlake Terrace bars skateboards from the Civic Center, Library and Recreational Pavilion (10.25.010).

Penalties for skateboarders can include fines of $20 to $250, confiscation and community service time, depending on the city, repeat offenses and the age of the offender.

Local law books for Snohomish County, Granite Falls, Index, Snohomish, Stanwood and Woodway are all mum on skateboards.

The safest thing as a driver is to yield to anyone not in a giant hunk of metal like yourself.

“Despite some skateboarders’ feelings that the rules are there to wreck their fun, the ultimate goal is to move people safely through our communities,” Dahl wrote. “And as long as skateboarders are traveling on pedestrian routes, drivers should be alert to extra-fast pedestrians.”

Melissa Slager:, 425-339-3432.

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