Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 24th, 2007 at 8:47 am
“What we are very interested in is moving the violator into a driver improvement program, which would include training, completion of community service, and a physical test for competency.”
–BTA Board Member Doug Parrow, testifying in Salem yesterday.
A bill backed by the BTA and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) that seeks to increase the penalty for any vehicle (including bicycles) that injures or kills a “vulnerable user” of the roadway got its first hearing in Salem yesterday.
I wasn’t at the hearing but I’ve spoken with Lawyer Ray Thomas and BTA lobbyist Scott Bricker, and I’ve also listened to the audio recording.
The bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee and did not make it to a vote due to time constraints and some last minute wrangling with various amendments.
There may not have been a vote (one is expected any minute now), but the hearing included tough questions from members of the committee and poignant testimony from bereaved family members that had lost loved ones due to careless drivers.
Lining up to testify Monday were; lawyer Ray Thomas, lobbyist Scott Bricker (for both the BTA and the WPC), acting Commander of the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division Mark Kruger, BTA Board Member and legislative committee member Doug Parrow, ODOT legislative liaison Jack Evans, and a panel of three victims who testified about love ones that had been killed or seriously injured by careless drivers.
Thomas told me he was “hopeful and optimistic” that the bill would pass. Bricker is a bit more tentative in his optimism, telling me he likes the bill’s chances, but that he’s really “not sure” how it will go.
The sticking point seems to be the funding and implementation of the Driver Improvement course. Thomas says it must be self-funding so it gets through the Ways and Means Committee.
There were also some skepticism and confusion from at least one member of the committee about how the new law might unfairly burden motorized vehicle drivers.
In his testimony, Bricker outlined his intentions with the bill and told the committee,
“In Oregon, traffic crashes are the top cause of fatalities from all ages from 1-34…In many cases, a driver will seriously injure or kill a person and receive only a violation, sometimes they don’t even show up in court, apologize, or do any community service to give back to help healing.”
BTA Board Member, and the man that crafted this bill, Doug Parrow testified that the bill,
“Establishes a fairly significant increase in the penalty (for careless driving)… but that’s not really the focus of what we want to accomplish. What we are very interested in is moving the violator into a driver improvement program, which would include training, completion of community service, and a physical test for competency.”
This testimony raised a question from Representative Wayne Kreiger,
“Flaggers must go through mandatory testing before being out on the roadway…Is there any mandatory training for these (vulnerable) users before they get out on the roadway?”
Bricker answered without missing a beat,
“There is an ODOT statute that says if/when there is money, they will start a bicycle safety class. We’re doing Safe Routes to School programs and in the last year we taught bike safety education to 5500 children…we partner with many agencies and community members to try and educate cyclists…this is a priority for us.”
Kreiger than determined that the problem with the bill is that it, “puts all the burden on the driver” (meaning motorized vehicle drivers). He said, during his 28 years on the State Police force he experienced many cyclists that would ride too far into the motor vehicle lane. Clearly frustrated with cyclists by this experience, he said,
“We need to do a lot better job taking care of bicyclers before we put all this burden on drivers.”
After a brief testimony by lawyer Ray Thomas where he put his support behind the bill because it would “give a charging alternative for our law enforcement officers,” and would, “give vulnerable users some protection”, three citizens shared their tragic stories of loved ones being killed and/or seriously injured by careless drivers.
Thomas pointed out that in all three cases, the motorists only paid a nominal fine for the careless act that led to the crash. He says police officers are “very limited” in what they can do and that they could “only cite for the underlying offense, such as an illegal left turn.” Thomas also expressed his frustration that as the current law stands, someone can cause a fatality and,
“Avoid any consequence at all…they can mail in their fine and receive no follow-up for improvement, never see a judge, and never be assessed to see if they are safe to continue driving.”
Gary Jensen of Weston, Oregon lost his wife to a careless driver. She was struck while riding her bike in the shoulder,
“$121 is what they decided Marilyn was worth. We were high school sweethearts…married nearly 47 years…now she’s gone and my life is too.”
Division, Lt. Mark Kruger
testified in Salem yesterday
on House Bill 3314.
File photo: 11/20/06
Following this testimony was Lieutenant Mark Kruger, the acting Commander of the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division. He said the PPB likes the bill, but they would like to see it apply to all road users,
“The PPB supports the general concept of the bill…but with some caveats. We believe than an enhancement of the violation charge would be an excellent tool for an officer…but the concern we have is that we believe that this type of charge should be available to all road users, not just vulnerable users.”
Listen to Kruger’s full testimony. Length: 3 min 44 sec
Download MP3 file (3.4MB)
The last person to testify was Jack Evans, a legislative liaison for ODOT. He said they’ve worked with the BTA on the bill and they are not taking a position on it at this time. Evans said they have estimated it would cost $60,000 to develop the Driver Improvement course and he expressed concerned over funding of the program.
That funding issue was supposedly dealt with in a work session in Salem yesterday.
Right now (8:30AM Tuesday morning), the bill is in front of the Committee and a vote is expected any minute. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: This bill passed out of committee this morning. Read my full report here. It now moves to
the Ways and Means Committee a vote on the House Floor.