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Widow pushes vehicular homicide law: “It’s what he would have wanted”

Posted by on June 9th, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Vehicular homicide law press conference-2.jpg
Mary O’Donnell at this morning’s
press conference.
(Photos © J. Maus)

At a press conference this morning held at a law firm in downtown Portland, Mary O’Donnell — whose husband Tim was killed while riding his bike — told reporters and news cameras that her push for a vehicular homicide law is “definitely what he would have wanted.”

Facing a packed room full of reporters and television cameras, O’Donnell seemed pensive as she marked the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. “He said that if he did ever get hit, at least he would die doing something he loved.”

On June 9th, 2007, Tim O’Donnell was struck from behind while riding on a rural road in Washington County. Jennifer Knight — the woman who hit him — had her license suspended in Oregon, then went to Idaho to get another one. Six days prior to colliding with Tim O’Donnell, Knight was involved in another crash which was attributed to her “inattentiveness” by investigators.

Since then, Mary O’Donnell has become active on several issues as she tries to improve traffic safety and bring more closure and accountability for what happened to her husband.

Vehicular homicide law press conference-3.jpg
Lawyer Ray Thomas (R).

In the 2007 legislative session she tried to push for a bill that would have allowed bereaved families to request memorial signs to be placed at intersections, but that law failed to pass on two different occasions (once in the regular session and again in the shortened session early this year). Also in 2007, O’Donnell’s testimony to Salem lawmakers was key in getting the vulnerable roadway users law passed.

Now, Mrs. O’Donnell — along with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and Lawyer Ray Thomas — is standing up for a vehicular homicide law that aims to get delinquent vehicle operators off the roads.

Vehicular homicide law press conference-1.jpg
Attorney Doug Parrow (L)
and Karl Rohde (R).

At this morning’s press conference, noted bike lawyer Ray Thomas said the new law would go way beyond the vulnerable roadway users statute. That law, he says has “limitations” because offenders could “opt out” of the community service provision and get away with a fine ($12,500). In contrast, the vehicular homicide law will be a Class B felony which would carry a ten-year maximum sentence.

“Of course,” added Thomas, “we all know that often the maximum sentence is not issued, but this [law] would send a serious message to law enforcement, to the public and to judges.” Thomas added that what’s important about this proposed vehicular homicide law is that it recognizes the vehicle itself as being a dangerous weapon when combined with choices like using drugs or alcohol, driving with a suspended license or without insurance.

Thomas, O’Donnell, and the BTA’s government affairs director Karl Rohde will work to pass this law during the 2009 legislative session.

_________

– The Portland Mercury blog has some good coverage of this morning’s press conference.

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Comments
  • Chad June 9, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Saw this story pop up on kgw.com earlier today.

    In the story there is a poll on whether or not you agree with the vehicular homicide law and, get this, a pretty good majority is against the law even though we are only one of three states who don\’t have the law on the books.

    Scary.

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  • a.O June 9, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Chad, it\’s important to recognize that so-called \”unscientific\” polls are not accurate representations of public opinion.

    Folks, please contact your gals/guys in Salem and talk to them about getting this passed.

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  • jeff June 9, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Check the poll again Chad, 70% in favor.

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  • Pete June 9, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for the tip Chad – looks like we should go to kgw.com and register our opinions. That is scary.

    Is there something we can do readily to assist in getting this passed, such as writing to our Congressmen and/or Senators?

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  • Russell June 9, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    KOIN had a similar story/poll, however the Yes votes are at 67.9% right now. Goes to show you how unreliable internet polls are.

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  • tonyt June 9, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Poll is badly worded anyway, playing into the car v. bike divide. Bikes really have little to do with this law. It\’s about the law recognizing that the car is a potential weapon and that that danger potential needs to be factored in to driving decisions.

    As it is right now, you pretty much need to be drunk, on drugs, or intentional in your actions to face any kind of consequences. This law would change that.

    Oh, and the poll is here. Freep away.

    http://www.kgw.com/perl/common/surveys/vote_now.pl

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  • Peter W June 9, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    This is some pretty biased news reporting:

    http://www.kgw.com/news-local/stories/kgw_060908_news_odonnell_cyclist_struck_law.1651d1b8.html

    biased original headline: \”Drivers could face homicide charges in deadly bike crashes\”

    unbiased fixed headline: \”Drivers could face homicide charges when they commit homicide\”

    Inaccurate original first sentence:
    \”The wife of a man who died after a car struck him while he was riding his bicycle in Northwest Portland is pushing for tougher penalties for drivers who hit cyclists.\”

    Fixed: \”The wife of a man who was killed by a car while riding in Washington County is pushing for tougher penalties for drivers who kill cyclists.\”

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  • Russell June 9, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Jeff, I think you\’re thinking of the koin poll. KGW, about five minutes ago, was at 49 v 48 ish.

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  • Me2 June 9, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    This was the top story on KGW\’s 10 PM Sunday newscast. She mentioned that the woman who killed her husband is still driving around. What\’s wrong here?

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  • Russell June 9, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Oh, talking about the bias in the news, no one bothers to mention that (if I am correct) this law could also apply to drivers who kill other drivers. So to play this on the car/bike divide is very sad.

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  • Peter W June 9, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    By the way, currently 42 more people have said \’No\’ to the question

    \”Should drivers be subject to possible vehicular homicide charges when they kill bicyclists?\”

    on kgw\’s poll:

    http://www.kgw.com/news-local/stories/kgw_060908_news_odonnell_cyclist_struck_law.1651d1b8.html

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  • Peter W June 9, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    KOIN\’s web article seems better written, and at the bottom mentions that

    \”Most drivers we spoke with agreed with the general aims of the proposal.\”


    see koin article

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  • K June 9, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    KGW\’s poll is great, you can vote twice if you want.

    Once from the main page, and once from the story\’s page.

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  • Chad June 9, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    a.O, thanks for the reality check…this issue has the ability to get a person a little frantic.

    Though scientific or not it still gives uneducated viewers of the kgw poll the idea that the bill has limited support…this I worry about as we need all the support we can get.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) June 9, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    those polls are absolutely pointless and meaningless.

    your time is much better spent educating your state representatives in Salem about the issue and urging them to support it next session.

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  • jeff June 9, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Russell, you\’re right, I was thinking KOIN. Maybe it\’s because KGW is the bottom of the barrel for local news coverage.

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  • a.O June 9, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    @ #14 & # 15:

    Chad, I agree that unscientific polls give people misleading ideas about public opinion – that\’s why they\’re so irresponsible. No respectable media outlet should use these. They are actually worse than \”meaningless\” because – beyond conveying no factual information – they actually convey falsehoods.

    @ #7:

    Double-fixed first sentence:

    \”The wife of a man who was killed by someone driving a car while riding in Washington County is pushing for tougher penalties for drivers who kill cyclists.\”

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  • Mmann June 9, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    Polls are dumb and too easily manipulated by wordsmithing. What I find good in this proposed legislation is the recognition that in certain circumstances a car can legally be considered to have been used as a weapon, and the driver punished accordingly. It makes legal what many of us already know in our gut.

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  • Ron June 9, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    21 years ago, shortly after his 18th birthday, my brother (Jeff), while riding his bike in Phoenix, AZ was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The driver was sentenced to 8 years, and served 4. His BOC was > .25, and he\’d had multiple previous DUI\’s.

    My brother\’s birthday is June 9th.

    RIP Tim and Jeff.

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  • tonyt June 9, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Jonathan and the others are right, the poll is meaningless.

    But KGW\’s handling of the story and the poll is not.

    We should not allow the media to continue to fan the flames of the car/bike divide.

    As I said above, this is not about bikes. This is about drivers who kill people. We are not bikers asking for special treatment. We are people asking that drivers who use OUR public space be held accountable when they kill.

    Please send a quick and polite email to KGW, telling them that you don\’t appreciate their tactics.

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  • bahueh June 9, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    we should all spend a little time writing to KATU and KOIN to call them out on their crappy reporting?

    I just did…in a nice way of course.

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  • Ashley June 9, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you for your continued press on this, it\’s an important, and necessary issue that needs all of our support.

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  • rixtir June 9, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Tonyt, I agree that it\’s irresponsible \”journalism\” when KGW makes this a \”car/bike divide\” issue.

    It isn\’t about cars, and it isn\’t about bikes. It\’s about accountability. Vehicle operators who negligently kill, regardless of what type of vehicle they\’re operating, and regardless of who their victim is– pedestrian, cyclist, or motorist– will face criminal penalties for the death that occurred as a result of their negligent operation of a vehicle.

    That\’s a law that protects everybody on the road. The only possible opposition to criminalizing vehicular homicide would be the negligent vehicle operators lobby…And the news media ratings lobby.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) June 9, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    re: unnecessarily fanning the flames of the the bike/car divide, here\’s my part in the KGW story:

    \”Bikeportland.org editor Jonathan Maus explained that under the proposed law, offenders would be held accountable no matter what type of vehicle they are operating.

    “If they kill somebody with their car or with their bike, criminally negligent homicide is the closest thing right now and criminal negligence is not going to fly for most people,” he said.\”

    in both the interviews i did last night (was also on KATU) i tried to make it clear that this law really has nothing to do with bikes specifically and that the only reason the BTA was pushing it is because bikes unfortunately are much more vulnerable when a collision happens.

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  • a.O June 9, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Wow, hard to believe they are quoting you as a source for the proposition that a vehicular homicide law would apply to more than just killing cyclists. How dumb are these people?

    Not that you\’re not a worthwhile source, but why would they not already know this?

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  • rixtir June 9, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    But also, as I understand the law, it applies whenever a negligent vehicle operator kills *somebody*– it doesn\’t just apply when vulnerable road users are killed (although we maybe feel more vulnerable on the road). It applies whenever anybody– motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian– is killed by another\’s negligence.

    And that\’s something we should all be able to get behind.

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  • jami June 9, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    i admire mary o\’donnell\’s strength in helping to push for this much-needed law. anything that might make a proven bad driver think twice before getting behind the wheel is fine with me. i\’m just so tired of careless drivers getting $250 fines for taking someone\’s life.

    to steal from a.O on another post: drive to not kill people.

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  • tab June 9, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    I ride a bike every single day. I have been hit by a car, and have had many friends quite seriously injured by cars. I have also had friends seriously injure people with their bikes.

    I am absolutely against this law. The misconceptions and misunderstandings on this website are absolutely appalling.

    First, this law does not punish bad drivers. Bad drivers are already covered by the criminal statutes. If you kill someone recklessly, that is a Measure 11 offense, which has a mandatory minimum sentence of about 9 years in prison for each charge. If you kill someone negligently, there is criminally negligent homicide. In other words, if you simply kill someone taking a risk that you shouldn\’t have taken, that is negligence. A lot of the postings have been about \”bad\” or \”negligent\” drivers. That\’s not what this law targets. This law is for people who made no serious mistake driving, and were involved in a serious tragedy.

    Second, this law, while having nice intentions, does nothing more than punish poor folks. Those with lower incomes make up a disproportionate amount of people with suspended licenses. This is because, oftentime, it can hundreds of dollars to get your license back. Not much of a problem for someone on a brand new Bianchi, but a big problem for folks trying to support a family on a minimal wage.

    Third, this law discriminates against undocumented workers. It is going to be very challenging for these folks to get licenses in other States now, and many farm jobs are migratory in nature.

    Let\’s think twice before jumping on the jail bandwagon. I would not that centuries of prison haven\’t solved criminal behavior, and likely never will.

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  • rixtir June 9, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Killing somebody through your own negligence behind the wheel is \”no serious mistake driving\”?

    Time to put the crack pipe down, you\’re done.

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  • rixtir June 9, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    OK, on second thought, I see your point. The law targets anybody who kills while negligently driving a vehicle, and presumably (not seeing the text), negligence includes driving without a license and/or driving without insurance.

    So, theoretically, somebody driving on a suspended license or without insurance could, through of fault of their own, be involved in fatal accident. For example, somebody could run a red light, crash into the person driving without a license, and the person driving without a license is sent to prison on a felony charge.

    That IS unjust.

    That said, I don\’t care that somebody can\’t afford a license or insurance. It costs money to drive. If you can\’t afford it, you don\’t belong behind the wheel, period. Is it unjust that somebody would be sent to prison when all they did was drive after they were forbidden to drive?

    Yes.

    It\’s also unjust when that same person, under the excuse that they can\’t afford insurance, injures or kills me while driving uninsured. Life IS tougher for the poor. That\’s no excuse to abandon personal responsibility. Sometimes, you just can\’t afford things that other people can. Like driving a car. In short, I don\’t care what their reason is, if they can\’t afford to drive responsibly– that is, if they can\’t afford to get their license back, or they can\’t afford insurance, or even if they can\’t afford to meet pollution standards– and they drive anyway, they\’ve lost my sympathy.

    Finally, you might take a look at the accident statistics sometimes. A disproportionate number of motor vehicle accidents are caused by people who are driving on suspended or revoked licenses. There\’s a reason they lose their licenses in the first place– no easy task in a society which views driving as a right– and if they\’ve reached the point where society finally suspends or revokes their driving privileges, and they can\’t afford to get them back, tough.

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  • JJ June 9, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    ***Is there something we can do readily to assist in getting this passed, such as writing to our Congressmen and/or Senators?***

    Certainly. Here\’s the website to find out your current legislator\’s contact info: http://www.leg.state.or.us/findlegsltr/

    Many of them will be lame ducks right now, with new people taking over in January, but contact them anyway.

    You can also call, toll free: 800-332-2313, and ask the nice lady for the rep you want, or tell her where you live and she\’ll connect you to the right person.

    Leave them a voicemail, something to the effect of: \”I\’m a bicyclist and I urge you to support safety for bicyclists. Please support the vehicular homicide bill.\”

    If you\’ve got a new Democrat coming in in your district, find out who it is –shouldn\’t be that tough –and call or email and ask them to cosponsor Mrs. O\’Donnell\’s bill once they\’re sworn in.

    We\’ve got a plethora of young, fresh bright new legislators going to Salem, and every one of them should be harassed relentlessly about how important bike safety is to the voters in this community.

    JJ

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  • tab June 9, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Mr. Rixtir-

    Stop repeating the proposed law requires negligence. It absolutely DOES NOT. Criminally negligent homicide ALREADY EXISTS; check Chapter 163 of the Oregon Criminal Code. You should review the terms strict liability, negligence, criminal negligence, and recklessness before you continue this debate. This proposed law is one we would term \”strict liability.\”

    Your proposal that its ok to punish an individual more harshly because they are part of a group that causes more harm is a species of collective punishment. That is a very dangerous proposal.

    There is another point worth talking about: suspended licenses only come about with the intersection of the criminal justice system. Currently, Multnomah County drastically discriminates against people of color in every phase of the system from traffic stops to sentences received. Is that really a system you want to become a part of?

    Last, all of the arguments made about this law are made in favor of captial punishment: it would deter people because of the harsh punishment. It doesn\’t work.

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  • a.O June 9, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Tab, just because you ride a bike doesn\’t mean you are capable of understanding what policies are needed to lessen the approx. 43,000 deaths each year in this country caused by people driving motor vehicles.

    Your first argument totally ignores the problems that Oregon DAs have had getting convictions under the existing laws. I wonder if you\’ve been paying any attention at all to the punishments received by drivers killing and injuring bicyclists lately?

    Your second argument is about economic inequality, which has nothing to do with what behavior the law punishes. The idea that poor people (who are dangerous to others on the roadway) need to be able to drive to get out of poverty is simply not true. Europeans have a higher standard of living than Americans and use half the gasoline. If anything, it\’s pretty clear these days that driving more costs more!

    Your third argument about deterring illegal immigration is a reason to support this bill for me. I had to wait in line, fill out the forms, and pay my fees to get into this country – why should others get to break the rules and stay for free?

    Can someone provide a link to the text of this bill?

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  • rixtir June 9, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    I\’m not saying we should have collective punishment. I\’m saying that it\’s laughable to imply, as you have, that people who are driving on suspended or revoked licenses are good drivers who just got unlucky because they\’re poor. The statistics demonstrate otherwise.

    I am not even suggesting that somebody who is involved in a fatal collision through another party\’s negligence should be punished as if they were the negligent party.

    However, I do think they should pay a penalty for ignoring the fact that they have been ordered not to drive. For those people, taking their driving privileges away is meaningless, because they have demonstrated their willingness to drive anyway. Therefore, I have no objections to punishing them with jail time. I do object, however, to punishing them with the same sentence that applies to somebody who negligently kills.

    Again, as I understand the law, negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in somebody\’s death will be punishable as a criminal offense. Despite your dance with words, you haven\’t really denied that basic fact, have you?

    And yes, I am somewhat familiar with the terms \”\”strict liability,\” negligence,\” et al.– a familiarity I acquired before my J.D.

    As far as you playing the race card, I don\’t really care what color the person is, if they\’ve lost their license, it\’s because they are unsafe drivers to begin with. I don\’t have any issue with taking them off the road. I do have an issue with leaving unsafe drivers on the road simply because they have a racial advantage in the criminal justice system. The just solution is to remove all unsafe drivers from the road, not to leave unsafe drivers on the road in some misguided application of social justice.

    Finally, whether it\’s a deterrent or not, they\’re not driving while they\’re in prison. That\’s good enough for me….And more respectful of the victim\’s life than the collective shrug of the shoulders we engage in now.

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  • tonyt June 9, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Tab,

    You said, \”Last, all of the arguments made about this law are made in favor of captial punishment: it would deter people because of the harsh punishment. It doesn\’t work.\”

    Actually, all of the arguments made about this law are made in favor of jail too.

    Because we have jail but still have crime does that mean we should stop sending people to jail for killing people?

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  • wsbob June 9, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    The implications and consequences of any proposed vehicular homicide law have to be simple enough for people to understand if it such a law is to be an effective deterrent against lethal driving behavior.

    I\’m interested in knowing how this proposed law might have altered driver Jennifer Knight\’s behavior behind the wheel, had it been in existence before she happened upon cyclist Timothy O’Donnell. Any effective law has to be simple enough for someone like Knight to understand if it\’s going to be any good. For this example, I\’m presuming she has a little more intelligence than an Idaho fencepost.

    I agree with Tab, in a sense, that prison, jail or otherwise locking people up, is not the best objective. The better objective is to have a new law somehow effectively communicate to certain drivers that their driving must be changed to avoid a situation they would not be happy with, before they actually run over and kill someone.

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  • Matt Picio June 9, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    tab (#32) – \”Your proposal that its ok to punish an individual more harshly because they are part of a group that causes more harm … is a very dangerous proposal.\”

    The law exists in 46 states currently. I don\’t think it\’ll be any more dangerous in Oregon than it is in, say… Michigan.

    Even in Detroit, where car entitlement is practically a God-given right, I haven\’t seen the kind of issues you\’re positing in your previous posts.

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  • tab June 10, 2008 at 12:08 am

    1. This law does not punish bad drivers. The law punishes those who have suspended licenses. To assume one is the same is laughable at best. For example, your license will be suspended if you are caught by the police with a bit of cocaine whether or not you were even in a car. Does this make you a bad driver? Your license could be suspended if you fail to appear at a traffic hearing, even if you are totally innocent. Does this make you a bad driver?

    Mr. Rixtir, you state, \”I don\’t really care what color the person is, if they\’ve lost their license, it\’s because they are unsafe drivers to begin with.\” However, African-Americans, for example, are prosecuted for drug offense at a rate approximately 10 times their proportional representation in this community, and we all know white people do drugs. Every drug conviction carries with it an automatic license suspension (there is an escape clause, but it is no guarantee). Its not a race card, its reality.

    2. When your driving is bad, and it hurts someone, there are a lot of laws of the books to deal with it. The fact that prosecutors don\’t apply them as vigorously when cyclists are injured is a reason to get new prosecutors, not bad laws with unintended consequences.

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  • Joe June 10, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Although I ride a bike and feel it\’s tragic anyone would be killed while riding one, I cannot support this bill because too many cyclists ride like they are immune to traffic laws. Though most people ride responsibly and realize the consequences of unsafe behavior, too many do not.

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  • a.O June 10, 2008 at 8:56 am

    What\’s telling about tab\’s posts is what you don\’t see: The language of the bill.

    Does anyone really think that arguing with tab is going to do any good or change his/her mind?

    He is arguing from an ideological position about the current functioning about the criminal justice system – he is not even discussing the bill at issue here.

    By citing arguments like racial disparities in drug prosecutions, tab is using examples of injustices that no one here likely would disagree with and conflating them with the mechanism for punishing dangerous behavior described in this bill.

    Those injustices are happening regardless of whether the vehicular homicide bill becomes law. By making them seem as though they are related to this bill, the obviously falsehoods tab is spreading (the law does not punish those who deserve it) gains some credence in the mind of the gullible reader.

    Tab wants you to think that defeating this bill is a way to deal with those problems. And that is absurd.

    So tell us, tab, if the law \”does not punish bad drivers,\” what does the bill specifically say?

    Where does the language of the bill fail to capture its intended target?

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  • BikeBillboards dot blogspot dot com June 10, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Hey, how \’bout a bike ed law too? NOBODY wants CHANGE until someone croaks. Who am I kidding?

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  • David Feldman June 10, 2008 at 9:30 am

    And, getting into a car when drunk should count as premeditation–so that killing another road user when so affected should be considered murder, not manslaughter.

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  • Lynne F June 10, 2008 at 10:20 am

    #32. I sat in a room with the Washington County DA and heard him read and interpret the law. And say that there was not a crime he could charge the driver with, by the LEGAL DEFINITION OF NEGLIGENCE. I want that law.

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  • rixtir June 10, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Tab, you haven\’t got a shred of credibility if you are going to maintain with a straight face that \”This law does not punish bad drivers.\”

    Of course, you are free to step up to the plate, as I previously challenged, and deny that negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in a death will be a felony offense under the proposed law. Are you prepared to make that denial? Or will you continue to dance with your words?

    You make an interesting point that a suspended license does not necessarily indicate that the driver is a \”bad driver.\” OK, fair enough, I don\’t know much about drug convictions, so let\’s assume that some drivers lose their licenses due to circumstances unrelated to their driving behavior. Now, since you\’re bringing up the circumstances under which one loses one\’s license, you must surely be aware that a DUI conviction is another one of those circumstances under which one loses one\’s license. So is Oregon\’s \”repeat offender\” program, under which drivers with multiple traffic convictions face losing their licenses.

    Now, Tab, what percentage of drivers who have lost their licenses have lost them due to drug convictions completely unrelated to driving, and what percentage of drivers who have lost their licenses have lost them due to convictions directly or indirectly related to driving? I\’m taking a guess here that MOST license forfeitures are the result of convictions directly or indirectly related to driving. And frankly, I want those drivers removed from the road.

    So what do we do about those drivers who lose their licenses due to other circumstances? Nothing. There is that old saying, \”If you can\’t do the time, don\’t do the crime.\” If you\’re going to get involved with drugs, then criminal convictions and sentences are part of the scenery, and if losing your license is a part of the sentence, then that\’s the path you chose, isn\’t it? Even if drug convictions are racially imbalanced (something not demonstrated through the dubious use of statistics– conviction rates compared to the percentage of population invite us to assume racial bias, but actually tell us nothing about the fairness or lack of fairness of the criminal justice system), if losing your license is pat of the territory that comes with drug use and/or distribution, then that\’s the path you chose if you\’re subsequently convicted, isn\’t it? If you have a court appearance and losing your license is what will result from a failure to appear, then if you fail to appear you\’ve made your choices, even if you are \”completely innocent.\” Failure to appear due to exigent circumstances? Inform the court and ask that the hearing be rescheduled. Otherwise, accept the consequences of your failure to appear and stop complaining. I have NO sympathy for somebody whose license is suspended but who chooses to drive anyway. Is that person facing a \”strict liability\” conviction if they are caught up in a fatal accident due to another person\’s negligence? Yes. Do I care? No. That\’s the choice that person is making when they get behind the wheel after the state has suspended their license. If they choose to place themselves in the position where they can be convicted under a \”strict liability\” theory, they don\’t really have have anybody to blame but themselves afterward, do they?

    And what about that \”strict liability\”? Is it appropriate to make driving without insurance or driving without a license a strict liability activity? Absolutely. Motor vehicles kill in excess of 40,000 people very year. People who are prohibited from driving but choose to drive anyway elicit no sympathy from me if they find themselves facing a conviction under a strict liability theory. That\’s what they chose, so no use whining to me afterwards about \”no fair!\”

    All that said, I think it\’s mostly a red herring– I think most license forfeitures are directly or indirectly related to one\’s driving behavior. Of course, you\’re free to prove that most license forfeitures are completely unrelated to driving behavior, but I think you know that you\’re blowing smoke to protect the relative handful of people who will be caught up in a felony conviction for offenses unrelated to their driving behavior.

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  • wsbob June 10, 2008 at 10:42 am

    The BTA\’s proposed law so far exists in only a few conceptual fragments. Is that not right? The actual proposed law is currently in the process of being written and its specifics or language have not been finalized. Correct?

    I have no idea what the completed law will specify, but personally, I think it should provide that any road user whatever their vehicle of choice happens to be, that runs over and kills a vulnerable road user, should answer to the criteria of vehicular homicide.

    Whether a road user has insurance or a valid license is beside the point. People need to get used to the idea that their vehicle is a potentially lethal weapon and take all necessary precautions accordingly.

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  • rixtir June 10, 2008 at 10:49 am

    David, #42:

    Getting behind the wheel while drunk could not possibly constitute \”premeditation\” to support a murder conviction. The state of mind necessary to convict on premeditated murder just isn\’t there.

    However, getting behind the wheel while drunk should be sufficient to prove recklessness, which is an element of some homicides.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) June 10, 2008 at 10:49 am

    wsbob is correct.

    the language of the law has not yet been drafted.

    The BTA has to have a legislator officially sponsor the bill (it will likely be either Floyd Prozanski or Tobias Read) and then the Legislative Council in Salem will draw up the first draft.

    Once a draft is available, I will do a follow-up story.

    And for what it\’s worth, my hunch is that the law will not be vehicle-specific… in other words it would apply to anyone operating any vehicle (be that a bike, a car, a skateboard, etc..)… but that\’s just my hunch.

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  • rixtir June 10, 2008 at 11:06 am

    But Jonathan, I still think the real point that\’s being missed by everybody is that this isn\’t a bill to punish motorists who negligently kill cyclists– it\’s a bill that will punish motorists (and other vehicle operators) who negligently kill another person, whether that person is a pedestrian, a cyclist, or another motorist.

    While cyclists are vulnerable road users, and therefore behind this bill, the bill protects the rights of everybody on the road. I think we do ourselves an injustice when we sell this as a \”cyclist\” bill, because it provides the same measure of justice for everybody in Oregon, regardless of whether they\’re walking, riding, or driving. If we want this bill, I think we should focus on getting past this false car/bike divide that the media is portraying, and emphasize that the bill protects ALL Oregonians.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) June 10, 2008 at 11:11 am

    rixtir,

    you are preaching to the choir with me. i completely agree with you.

    i think its unfortunate that some of the local media presented the news as being bike vs. car instead of it being — like you say — vehicle neutral.

    i think you\’ll definitely see the effort to pass this bill focus on protecting everyone… but of course as we all know, the media will do whatever they want with it.

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  • a.O June 10, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Sensible people wait until there is at least a draft bill before saying things like \”this law does…\” or \”this law does not…\”

    What\’s abundantly clear from paying attention to the news, talking with prosecutors, and reviewing the Oregon criminal code is that something needs to be done to get people like Jennifer Knight out of motor vehicles for good.

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  • wsbob June 10, 2008 at 11:58 am

    We\’ll have to wait and see, but hopefully this law will be successfully carried through and will protect all road users rather than just one category.

    Is the BTA proposing that the law be written as a cyclist specific law? From reading their press release and various other related things, that\’s not my impression. The important thing to note though, is that it was a cyclist getting run over that created sufficient motivation needed to push for a vehicular homicide law in Oregon.

    I guess motorists in Oregon are so resigned to the fact that death in a motor vehicle to motor vehicle collision is likely that they haven\’t been willing to accept a vehicular homicide law here. It\’s cyclists as those among the varied vulnerable road users, that is hopefully turning that disposition around.

    Apparently, the word \’cyclist\’ associated with a group fundamentally connected with implementing a law that would affect motor vehicle drivers, makes irresistible copy to various news organizations. Aside from that, I\’m not worrying too much about road users being pitted against each other by someone\’s silly writing. I\’ve got a fair amount of confidence that their are enough people around and involved that will use their intelligence and compassion to have a good law written for the protection of all.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) June 10, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    \”Apparently, the word \’cyclist\’ associated with a group fundamentally connected with implementing a law that would affect motor vehicle drivers, makes irresistible copy to various news organizations.\”

    this is precisely why I\’ve been saying for months — and trying to write as such — that everyone should stop using the words \”cyclist(s)\” or \”bicyclist(s)\”.

    i feel those words are nothing more than labels that become a shortcut to divisiveness.

    I try not to ever use \”bicyclist/cycling\” or \”motorist\” in my writing.

    we are people, we are not defined by the mode of transportation we use!

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  • a.O June 10, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I agree, Jonathan. The terms have come to connote more than simply being on a bike or in a car … suggesting a certain attitude or set of social/political beliefs or even a particular riding/driving style.

    Whenever you do that, you make a generalization/stereotype that is the basis for unfairly or inaccurately judging an individual who happens to fit the described social category.

    Those who make pre-judgments about the behavior of people who are members of a social category based on their experience with other people who also are members of that social category do us all a disservice. This is the same cognitive process that is responsible for racism, sexism, ageism, and lots of other de-humanizing and illegal reasoning and behavior.

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  • rixtir June 10, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    I wanted to wait until I could double check the statutes to address a point Tab made, because I knew it was misleading, but wanted to have the facts before I said so.

    Tab argues that the law currently allows prosecutors to charge drivers who kill with criminally negligent homicide, and that therefore, this proposed law is unnecessary. While it is true that criminally negligent homicide is an offense in Oregon, what tab fails to mention is that \”criminal negligence\” means that the defendant \”grossly deviated\” from the ordinary standard of care expected of the reasonable person.

    This is a much higher degree of negligence than simple negligence. It means that the defendant deviated so grossly from the ordinary standard of care that s/he failed to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk of the resulting outcome.

    Think of some of the recent deaths in this city.

    Tim O\’Donnell? His killer couldn\’t be charged with criminally negligent homicide merely for driving on s suspended license, and it\’s doubtful that criminal negligence could be proved on her attempted pass.

    Bret Jarolimek? While it\’s negligent to fail to yield to a cyclist in the bike lane, I doubt that criminal negligence could be proved, absent the driver being aware of Bret\’s presence on the road.

    Tracey Sparling? Same thing.

    Three Portland cyclists killed by negligent drivers, who won\’t be prosecuted for criminally negligent homicide because criminal negligence can\’t be proved when there is a reasonable doubt about what the driver knew. A vehicular homicide statute would cover that gap in the law, making the killing of another person through a river\’s negligence a criminal offense.

    And Tab knows that, which makes his posts on the subject intentionally misleading.

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  • tab June 10, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Mr. Rixtir-

    As you yourself saw, negligent homicide already exists. If your intent is to punish \”simple negligence\” then make that a requirement in the new law; make it a felony to operate a vehicle with simple negligence that kills someone. I have absolutely no objection to that; in fact, I support it. Can we agree on that?

    My point is that merely a suspended license does not merit a lengthy prison sentence. Bad driving that results in a death merits a lengthy prison sentence, but the proposed law, in your terms, does not fit the intended consequence. I merely believe we should pass laws that are tailored to correct the threat. The threat is negligent driving that results in a death: so pass a law that punishes negligent driving that results in death. Mr. Thomas\’ proposal punishes those who did not drive negligently, who only happened to be in an accident involving death, and only happened to have a suspended license. Again, I support a simple negligence homicide bill.

    Also, you state that the driver who killed Tim O\’Donnel could not be prosecuted. In fact, as far as I have ever read, the district attorney CHOSE not to submit it to a grand jury. Sounds like he never tried to prosecute. Sounds like we need new DA\’s, rather than more prison laws.

    My point is that the law is overbroad, and mistailored. Case in point: you get convicted of distribution of marijuant. As a matter of law, your license would be suspended. Then you get into a bike accident with a pedestrian and the pedestrian dies. Its not clear if you were negligent or not. Under Rixtir\’s proposal, you are guilty of the felony. A driver of a car, who\’s license has been suspended in the past for past reckless driving, but currently has a \’hardship permit\’ (b/c of wealth), and is involved in a similiar accident, is not guilty under the law. Why does this make sense? Let\’s tailor a good law, not an overbroad reactionary measure.

    Only in Portland would someone actually assert that racial bias is not the reason that people of color are so massively over-represented in the criminal justice system. Unbelievable; and really quite depressing.

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  • a.O June 10, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    \”Mr. Thomas\’ proposal punishes those who did not drive negligently, who only happened to be in an accident involving death, and only happened to have a suspended license.\”

    Again tab, show us exactly where it says this? What\’s that? You can\’t? Exactly. You\’re making this stuff up!

    \”My point is that the law is overbroad…\”

    There *is no law* yet. Something that does not exist cannot be overbroad! Do you not understand this basic fact or are you intentionally ignoring it so you can continue to pretend your point is real?

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  • rixtir June 10, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    I\’ll address your last point first. I have not at all asserted that racial bias is not the reason that people of color are so massively over-represented in the criminal justice system. What I have said is that a simplistic recitation of statistics demonstrating that people of color are imprisoned out of proportion to their percentage in the population doesn\’t prove that racial bias is at the root of the problem, in and of itself. One could, for example, credibly argue that social class also has some bearing on who ends up in the criminal justice system. One could argue that certain types of crimes receive more emphasis from the criminal justice system than other types of crimes– and that may have some bearing on who ends up in the criminal justice system. There may be a multitude of factors, including racial bias, that one has to take into account, examine, and factor in or discard as the evidence indicates. Assuming racial bias solely on the basis of the numbers is not a valid statistical analysis.

    And yes, my intent is to make vehicular homicide due to simple negligence a criminal offense. This requirement that we currently have that the driver must have grossly deviated from the ordinary standard of care is inexcusable. So it seems we can agree on that point.

    I also agree that the driver who has, through the fault of another, become involved in a fatal collision, should not be punished with the same sentence that the negligent driver would receive. i don\’t think that would be just.

    However, I do think that the driver who is driving without a license should be punished. So what do we as a society do? We can\’t punish that driver by suspending or revoking his license; he\’s already demonstrated his intent to continue driving despite the proscription against it. Do we fine that driver? You\’ve already hypothesized that he\’s too poor to pay to get bis license back, so fining him ill be pointless. Do we just ignore the fact that he\’s ignoring his suspension? That doesn\’t seem to be very just either. I think the only just recourse is to punish driving with a suspended license with jail time. If it\’s already a misdemeanor (I can\’t be bothered to look it up), then the driver should serve a jail sentence. If it\’s not a misdemeanor, it should be.

    Now, playing devil\’s advocate, Tim O\’Donnell would still be alive if his killer had simply obeyed the proscription against driving. Of course, she also passed in a no-pass zone, if I remember correctly,and that is what led to his death. Nevertheless, if she hadn\’t been driving in violation of the order to stop driving, Tim O\’Donnell would still be alive.

    Now let\’s take that to another level– a driver with a suspended license is involved in a collision, due to the other driver\’s negligence, and which results in the other driver\’s death. While the suspended driver did not \”cause\” the collision, his presence on the road, in defiance of the law, nevertheless led to the other driver\’s death. But for the suspended driver\’s presence on the road, there would have been no death.

    That presence on the road, in defiance of the law, is what should be punished.

    That said, I don\’t think it should be punished with the same severity as the driver who negligently kills.

    Finally, I think you\’re over-reaching with your bicycle/pedestrian death hypothesis. A person with a suspended license is prohibited from operating a MOTOR vehicle. That person is not prohibited from operating ALL vehicles. If that person is riding a bicycle, he is in complete compliance with the terms of his license suspension, and if he subsequently becomes involved in a fatal collision with a pedestrian, he is not \”strictly liable,\” because he was not operating a motor vehicle. It may be that he is liable anyway, but negligence would have to be proved. Your hypothesis that he would be \”strictly liable\” is nothing more than an unfounded scare tactic.

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  • wsbob June 10, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    As someone that uses the words \’cyclist\’ and \’bicyclist\’ in expressing opinions on issues relating to conditions affecting bikes and their riders in traffic, it\’s certainly not my intention to convey some notion that all people on bikes are of a particular mindset or philosophy, unique to themselves without consideration for other road users.

    For those that think the words \’cyclist\’ and \’bicyclist\’ allow interpretation of some kind of xenophobic mindset on the part of people riding bikes, I guess it\’s fine to make an effort not to use them.

    I always thought those words were simply straightforward ways to refer to people that ride bikes. That\’s the way a credible news outfit would interpret the meaning of those words associated with most relations locally between people that ride bikes and people that get around other ways.

    News outfits shouldn\’t be distorting the meaning of words to game the ratings, but if they are, is taking certain words away from them going to change their behavior? I don\’t feel like playing cat and mouse with them.

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  • rixtir June 10, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    And while I have been debating the point, I do agree with a.O. that we need to see the proposed bill before we start commenting on what it will and won\’t do (although it\’s fair to say that our initial understanding is that it will criminalize vehicular homicide resulting from simple negligence).

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  • wsbob June 10, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Tab: Particularly for you, it would seem that the following bears re-reading and some thought about what it says:

    \”There *is no law* yet. Something that does not exist cannot be overbroad! Do you not understand this basic fact or are you intentionally ignoring it so you can continue to pretend your point is real?\” a.O

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  • a.O June 10, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    \”I always thought those words were simply straightforward ways to refer to people that ride bikes. That\’s the way a credible news outfit would interpret the meaning of those words…\”

    What credible news organizations?! Seriously, your point is well taken – not everybody intends the connotations I pointed out earlier, but they nevertheless are there in the minds of many.

    And, if there\’s one thing that\’s become clear from following media depictions of bike-related events, isn\’t it that the media distorts them to sell papers (or get clicks or whatever it is in the 21st century) at the expense of fairness and accuracy?

    @ #59: I\’m not sure it is a fair assumption is that the law will criminalize vehicular homicide resulting from simple negligence. I understand that standard is not used in criminal settings (hence criminal/gross negligence) because of the lack of requisite mens rea, which cannot be removed from a criminal charge. That also demonstrates why tab\’s mention of the law as involving \”strict liability\” is obviously wrong.

    My understanding of the distinction between homicide and vehicular homicide based on a cursory review of other states\’ laws is that the law prescribes the level of felony (e.g., Class B) if a vehicle is used to commit the offense and allows specifically for license suspension/revocation.

    As ever, additional detail on vehicular homicide statutes in operation elsewhere would be welcome to counteract tab\’s misinformation.

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  • rixtir June 10, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    I don\’t know. If you\’re right about the standard, a.O., I don\’t really see the difference between the current law and the proposed law.

    As I recall, Washington has a fairly graduated range of offenses, so their statutes may be worth taking a look at to see how they work.

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  • girl on a bike June 10, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Tab — you wrote:
    :
    \”Mr. Thomas\’ proposal punishes those who did not drive negligently, who only happened to be in an accident involving death, and only happened to have a suspended license. Again, I support a simple negligence homicide bill.\”

    I think including the phrase \”only happened to have a suspended license\” is costing you some points here. You\’re making a lot of valid statements, but I think it\’s going to be hard to convince regular readers of a pro-bike website that someone driving with a suspended license who \”only happened\” to be in a crash involving death is innocent of anything. If you have a suspended license, YOU DON\’T GET TO DRIVE. Doesn\’t matter why. I didn\’t have a valid Oregon license for a while when I first moved here 11 years ago because — and it took me a while to track down just exactly what the reason was — turns out I had an old \”fix it\” ticket on record in California because I got pulled over when my tail-light fuse blew. It is literally the most minor kind of infraction and the only thing on my driving record ever. I replaced the fuse and paid the tiny little fine, but … I forgot to go to the police station and get a cop to sign off on the fix, which was necessary to get it expunged. So six months later, I couldn\’t get a license in Oregon. Guess what I did? I didn\’t drive until I got it cleared up, and in the process I became a big devotee of public transportation. People don\’t \”just happen\” to drive with suspended licenses. They choose to do it. We live in a culture that is rampant with people who explain away violent car crashes caused by human negligence as \”accidents.\” Most of the people I know who read this site are sick of that kind of \”hey, accidents happen\” philosophy, because we are too often the ones dying in the street when someone \”only happens\” to be negligent while driving. Getting this law on the books is one of the best ways I can think of to give us any hope of changing that. The laws you are championing are already on the books, and they are not working to protect us.

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  • wsbob June 10, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    I don\’t have knowledge about how the BTA will prepare for writing their proposal for an Oregon vehicular homicide law, but I imagine they\’ve formed a committee to do this. Part of such a committee\’s activities to that end will likely be spent studying vehicular homicide laws that the 47 states of the union already have on the books.

    It seems way premature to get over-excited about some comment made about the as yet unwritten law focusing on suspended license drivers. No one urgently expressing their concerns in this thread about that particular focus of the law in question has even bothered to explain where they got the impression it was going to be a focus of the law to come. Near as I can tell, the Mercury\’s writer, \’the unpaid intern\’, made some unquoted, summarized comment to that effect in their story(link in article, top of page), so automatically, someone takes it as the gospel truth.

    re; credible news organizations. Probably shouldn\’t go off topic to discuss that one further on this thread. I get very irritated about having to consider abiding by someone\’s suggestion to avoid using words such as \’cyclist\’, \’bicyclist\’ and \’motorist\’ because local news organizations have distorted and tainted those terms. I\’d rather rely on that part of the public that is smart enough to realize the truth beyond the hoopla some local tv and radio stations manufacture by using such words as ratings bait.

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  • rixtir June 10, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Well, there\’s your answer, a.O. The language comes straight from the Portland Mercury intern.

    Suffice it to say, I think the Mercury got a bit mixed up on this one.

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  • a.O June 11, 2008 at 8:47 am

    Not surprising. The only reason I\’m even posting on this is that I feel it\’s important to dispel what is obviously misunderstanding/misinformation that can only damage the public\’s support for this.

    Re connotation/news: If you\’d rather assume that the public is smart enough to see beyond the \”hoopla\” as you put it, that\’s fine. So would I. And that\’s why I don\’t like this hoopla about how one cyclist\’s bad behavior makes everyone judge us all. People need to be smarter than to do that kind of social stereotyping, and many of them are.

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  • a.O June 11, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Oh, and I forgot: Damn intern! :P

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  • wsbob June 11, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Yeah, I generally agree with those who say something on the order of, \’if you expect them to be smarter, they will be\’. And it\’s true, some will. I also recognize that a lot of people have a major appetite for over-amped superficial tabloid presented crap (The big 4 local network tv stations have been the worst for catering to that appetite.).

    For me, I think it\’s better to talk to people that are at least trying to think about what they\’re hearing and whether it makes any sense at all. I think a lot people commenting on this weblog seem to being that to, but somtimes…. .

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