PDOT, advocates work towards tougher laws

I Share the Road Rally

[Commissioner Adams (L) and
PDOT’s Mark Lear (R) at a
Share the Road event
last January]

Traffic safety specialists at PDOT are working with Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams, the Portland City Council, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition to beef up their legal toolkit with new laws that will make it easier to sanction motorists who are involved in fatal traffic crashes.

PDOT Traffic Investigations Manager Mark Lear said they are “currently reviewing potential options” to introduce bills similar to Washington state’s vehicular homicide laws in their legislative package for the upcoming session.

According to Lear, last Friday he met with city transportation planners and city lobbyists to discuss this issue. Lear also said that the main impetus for considering a new vehicular homicide law (or something similar) came from the Police, who urged the city to give them the ability to charge people with something less than manslaughter but more severe than merely a traffic ticket.

This issue has gained a lot of energy in the community due to several recent crashes involving bicyclists and motorists in surrounding cities that have resulted in only a traffic ticket for the motorist.

On Friday there was another fatal crash on a rural road in Washington County that is very popular with cyclists. Like a previous incident in Beaverton, the motorist claimed the sun was in her eyes and recent reports state that no charges have been filed.

These crashes have cyclists feeling helpless and in danger and they are eager to see something done. A thread in the Portland Bike Forums is full of friends of Mike Kalan (the victim of Friday’s crash) and concerned cyclists are sharing their feelings and their desire to see stiffer laws in the future. One contributor and friend of Mike’s had this to say:

“My husband I are avid cyclists/racers in Chicago and since coming to Portland and talking to Mike, we are considering a move for a better lifestyle. After losing Mike and reading of some other recent “accidents” we are concerned about saftey. What is Portland doing to prevent these losses of life?”

Although these crashes have occured outside of Portland, the issue is definitely “on the radar” of PDOT Traffic Safety specialists and I’m confident that they will get a vehicular homicide law passed during the next legislative session.

I should have an update from PDOT soon about this and the other bicycle safety related bills they plan to introduce in 2007.

In the meantime, it’s up to us in the community to create awareness around driving and riding more attentively. The Traffic Safety email list is full of positive energy, good ideas and opportunities to get involved. If you’re interested in this issue, please join the list and be a part of the solution.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Jasun Wurster
Jasun Wurster
17 years ago

I think that a ‘Vehicular Homicide’ law is great … for those that are lucky enough to be killed. However, this would be useless to those that survive a collision. More so, it would not provide an educational component to help reduce negligence by vehicle operators on public roads.

Here is what I would like to see:

A ‘Negligent Collision’ fine. The fine is applied to any vehicle operator that is responsible for a collision caused by negligence.

The fine is based on a formula that penalizes heavier and larger vehicles. The reason for this is that if 5000 pound SUV collides with a Motorcycle. The damage caused to the motorcyclist is most likely far more severe. Another situation where this law would proportionally penalize negligence is if a Bicycle has a collision with a Pedestrian.

The formula I have been thinking of is one that takes the difference of the larger vehicles weight times 1 dollar.

An example is that the operator of a 5000 pound SUV is negligence and collides with a Pedestrian … $5000 fine. If the collision that was caused by negligence is severe enough and results in a fatality. Then a multiplexer of 5 is applied to the fine.

Vehicles who’s GVW (gross vehicle weight) that are with in 20% of each other have the fine based on the larger vehicle. This provides a fine for two similar vehicles when the lesser weighing vehicle was at fault. If the lesser vehicle is at fault … I have not figured this out yet.

All money collected from the fine goes to a state fund in which provides grants to organizations to reduce collisions on public roadways. May this be through education or infrastructure.

A few reasons why I like this idea. The name, Negligent Collision, is a proper description of why the person is getting fined. It also reinforces why most “accidents” happen.

The fine covers all vehicle operators and is not just bicycle centric. This makes it more appealing to every vehicle operator and walks.

The fines are meant to be large, this money will cause a substantial financial strain, which it is meant to do. The financial penalization is economically proportional. Generally those that can afford to fuel and pay for a 5000 pound SUV have the money to pay higher fines.

17 years ago

So, why don’t the police want to charge motorists who kill cyclists with manslaughter?

“The sun was in my eyes…”

So you habitually take your 2 ton hunk of metal powered by 200 horses at 40 miles per hour and point it at places you can’t see and hope for the best?

This is responsible behavior? This is called something other than manslaughter?

West Cougar
West Cougar
17 years ago

Juries will NOT convict a motorist of manslaughter so long as the motorist was sober. Juries identify with and therefore sympathize with the motorist, not the cyclist.

West Cougar
West Cougar
17 years ago

BTW, in other contexts, this is routinely called jury nullification.

17 years ago

I have a question about the WA law, and maybe someone knows the answer. Quote:
(1) When the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor vehicle:

(a) While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by RCW 46.61.502; or

(b) In a reckless manner; or

(c) With disregard for the safety of others.
(end quote)

It’s (c) that I’m somewhat concerned about. It seems really open to interpretation. Would the average Washington County sheriff deputy see a driver bending down to pick up a CD, talking on the cell phone, or eating fast food as operating a vehicle “with disregard for the safety of others”? Does anyone know how this law has been interpreted in WA?

Also, I would like to see an Oregon law without reference to “motor”. If I blow through a stop sign and hit a pedestrian who dies of their injuries, I think I should be held accountable for more than a $242 ticket. While extremely rare, cyclists in the wrong have killed pedestrians.

17 years ago

If you are bending down to pick up a CD, talking on the phone, or eating, and you hit someone on a bike (or anything else) you are driving recklessly and with a diregard for the safety of others. Duh

Matt Picio
17 years ago

I agree completely. Stop the car, then talk on the phone, switch the CD, or bite into your sandwich. Is that extra 30 seconds really worth someone’s life? This doesn’t just apply to hitting cyclists – how often has one car hit another car / truck / telephone pole because the driver was changing the radio station or dealing with the ketchup they dropped on their pant leg?

If you need to take your eyes off the road to do something while traveling at speed – DON’T. Pull over to the side of the road first, please.

17 years ago

Too bad the cops don’t get to see the distracted / negligent behavior and are left with the motorist explaining that “the sun was in my eyes.” How many motorists are going to admit to a cop after killing someone that they were in fact negligent?

17 years ago

That’s great they’re working on a homicide law. Is there an assault law already on the books, or is one needed?

“Actress Cameron Diaz has filed a police report charging a photographer with assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly trying to hit her and boyfriend Justin Timberlake with his car.”

Could this work for bicyclists?