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Police, citizens testify on Vulnerable Roadway Users bill

Posted by 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.”

Lt. Mark Kruger, PPB

Acting Commander of the Traffic
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
[audio:KrugerSalemVulnerable.mp3]
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.

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20 Comments
  • tonyt April 24, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Representative Wayne Kreiger says, “Is there any mandatory training for these (vulnerable) users before they get out on the roadway?”

    I’m sorry Mr. Kreiger, but that roadway is public space that over time has been slowly and utterly commandeered for the almost exclusive use of those who operate motor vehicles. But it remains public space.

    Think about it, if we have public space and we’re all running around and using it, and I show up with this huge metal box that can go 50 mph and I say, “Hey, I wanna drive this thing around on this public space.” Most everyone is going to say, “Whoa, maybe, but you better follow these rules and if you hurt anyone, you’re going to be punished and not allowed to drive that thing around again.”

    How would that NOT be the natural social contract?

    How much sense would it be for me, as the motor vehicle operator, to say, “Since I want to drive this thing around on public space, YOU have to take a class to learn how to avoid me?”

    Do you think public space users would go for that?

    We seem to have lost touch with the fact that these roads and intersections are still public space that used to be much safer for “vulnerable” people to use. The change has been slow and creeping.

    It’s our public space. We have been intimidated and threatened long enough. I’m not taking a darn class.

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  • Peter April 24, 2007 at 10:00 am

    I have to agree with the state trooper. Now I commute on my bike just about every day and follow the rules of the road so that I don’t needlessly endanger myself.

    When I come downtown via car or bike I see far too many cyclists riding around like they own the place. They have no respect for the law or other people.

    When I hear of a cyclist/motorist collision in Portland my first inclination is to blame the cyclist. I don’t necessarily like this but its based on my own experiences.

    If they are going to place an increased burden on the motorist then they also need to do something about the rogue cyclists who think the law doesn’t apply to them.

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  • tonyt April 24, 2007 at 10:13 am

    You know, I guess I should refine my argument. I don’t think that there shouldn’t be rules that we all agree to follow, but it seems to me to be fairly obvious, that the more “power” you have in the public space, the more reponsibility you should have. Your “right” to the public space should decrease as your ability to harm other users increases.

    That someone on a 25 lb. bike is fined the same as someone driving a 5,000 vehicle for rolling a stop sign boggles my mind.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 24, 2007 at 10:43 am

    “When I hear of a cyclist/motorist collision in Portland my first inclination is to blame the cyclist.”

    I think this speaks for itself.

    But I’d just like to point out that this is the same cognitive process — colloquially called “stereotyping” — that is responsible for racism, sexism, religious intolerance, etc. It’s just plain Wrong Thinking. It amounts to judging an individual, without having any experience with that individual, on the basis of one’s experience with a self-constructed category in which you artificially place the individual.

    Shame on you, Peter. You should know better.

    I’d also like to say that I commute downtown every day by bike, I also obey the law, and I also see these people. I see them both on bikes and in cars and walking around. I want the cyclists, in particular, to stop doing dumb stuff so the knee-jerk reactionaries don’t stereotype me. But it doesn’t justify judging someone I know nothing about on the basis of their chosen mode of transportation.

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  • Andrew April 24, 2007 at 10:53 am

    How did the committee members vote? I’d like to know where these legislators stand.

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  • J Price April 24, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Regarding bicycles “that would ride too far into the motor vehicle lane” [Kreiger], I’ll repeat the most non-sensical quote I’ve heard regarding this.

    In a news story a year or so ago about bicycle traffic in the western Washington County areas of hwy 26/Jackson School/Cornelius PAss etc the Washington County Sheriff’s spokesperson Sandy James stated that it was illegal for bicyclists, as vehicles, to ride on the shoulder of a highway and needed to ride in the far right of the first lane of travel; the shoulder is for emergency purposes only.

    How far right is “practical” on a highway with inattentive drivers passing you at the often 65+ mph? So we follow the law and the police [Kreiger] think we’re wrong?

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  • Peter April 24, 2007 at 11:44 am

    To Attornatus_Oregonensis

    I do know better but that doesn’t stop that from being the first thought to cross my mind. I don’t like it but it occurs because of the past experiences with riders in the downtown area. Its also just the first thought, I like to review all the information available before forming my final opinion.

    I would also like to see many of the cyclists stop doing the dumb stuff so that my opinions of them would change. Bikers that obey the laws and ride responsibly seem to be in the minority.

    To that end, I’m not alone in my views. This is how many of the motorists (as well as other cyclists I know) view things as well.

    My point was that I think something needs to be done to educate cyclists about the laws and how to ride safely in traffic. If they are going to use the rode then they need to obey the laws that apply. Then those laws need to be enforced for everyone, motorists and cyclists.

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  • Jonathan Maus April 24, 2007 at 11:52 am

    “I think something needs to be done to educate cyclists about the laws and how to ride safely in traffic.”

    Peter,

    Something is being done.

    Portland now has a diversion class open to bicyclists cited for certain infractions.

    Groups like the BTA, the CCC, and others train thousands of cyclists (kids too) about the rules of the road each and every year.

    And we could teach many more cyclists about the rules of the road, if there was more funding to do so.

    ODOT has a statute on the books that could help, but training cyclists has never been made a priority.

    How much do the Feds and States spend on motorist education? How about spreading that around so that it doesn’t have to be done by non-profit groups?

    Would the politicians and people who blame cyclists for not knowing the rules support legislation that spends more money to address that issue?

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  • Peter April 24, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    I didn’t know about the cyclist diversion classes in Portland. Thats pretty cool.

    I would support a politician if they were to try and educate cyclists and/or motorists. I think education is one of the only ways to actually prevent these collisions. I also think levying high fines just pisses people off and they don’t really learn from their mistakes.
    I do like the part of the bill that dramatically lowers the fine and provides an aversion course to the offender. In death or other serious cases though I don’t think the course is enough. Maybe some community service or something in addition to the course/fine.

    I noticed it mentioned that the BTA hasn’t taken a formal stance on this yet.

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  • Disco D April 24, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Overall I don’t know what I think about this bill, but I am surprised that funding is a sticking point. As far as I know the DUI/alcohol rehab program is 100% funded by the people being required to take the class.

    My friend recently got a DUI (in my car that he had borrowed…) and it ended up costing a fortune. $500 impound fee, huge ticket ($1500?), and then $75/week for a duration of the class.

    It seems that “injuring or killing a venerable roadway user” should have at least a harsh enough financial penalty to be able to sustain the classes themselves?

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  • Jonathan Maus April 24, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Disco D,

    The funding thing has been figured out and is no longer an issue.

    It will be self-sustaining, funded by the fine for the traffic violation that goes with the new charge.

    This is all laid out in an amendment that passed with the bill this morning.

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  • Disco D April 24, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Yea I just read that. I was going story by story oldest to newest so I missed it.

    That said, maybe I am missing something. It looks like a pretty cupcake sentence for killing someone with your car. I guess they can always still tack on manslaughter charges where needed though…

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  • Lynne April 24, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    “motor” vehicle lane? I thought it was just a vehicle lane…

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  • Matt Picio April 24, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    What I would like to see is more training for motorists. Too many motorists are inattentive at the wheel, and inattentiveness is much more dangerous in a 2-3 ton armored box than on a bike (less than 1/4 ton).

    Cars mass at least 8x a bicycle+rider, which means they do 8x the damage on impact. Typically cars travel twice as fast as cyclists (25-40 mph versus 12-20 mph) – because impact rises with the SQUARE of velocity, that means they do 4x the damage due to speed. This means a typical car under typical conditions does 32x as much damage when it hits a “vulnerable roadway user” (or anything else, for that matter).

    So, why should the burden be on bikes? Why not on the most dangerous operators – motorists?

    There are 2.9 million registered motorists in Oregon. There are 0.77 million cyclists, and regular cyclists (e.g. commuters, messengers, sole-transportation, etc) are probably only a fraction of that. How many cars injure cyclists? How many cyclists injure motorists? (I challenge you to find that statistic)

    Yes, this bill would put more responsibility on motorists – WHERE IT BELONGS. There probably should be something to protect pedestrians from everybody – including cyclists. I’m not too worried about that being a problem for most cyclists.

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  • Brent April 24, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Riding too far out into the ‘motor vehicle lane’. Don’t bicylists have the right to the entire lane?

    I have ridden on roads (two lane) with no shoulder. If I ride far to the right motor vehicles are alway squeezing between me and the on coming traffic. This is unsafe. I will take the full lane and make the motor vehicles pass only when it is safe.

    Oregon Bicycle Manual 2006 (ODOT): Page 7: If there is no shoulder or bike lane, and the travel lane is narrow, ride closer to the center of the lane. This will prevent motorists from passing you when there isn’t room.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 24, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    “Oregon Bicycle Manual 2006 (ODOT): Page 7: If there is no shoulder or bike lane, and the travel lane is narrow, ride closer to the center of the lane. This will prevent motorists from passing you when there isn’t room.”

    Yes, if only that were true. I’ve tried this several times on the Sellwood Bridge. It should say: “This will cause motorists to go temporarily insane and gun their engines to pass you across double-yellow lines on curves and hills, even where visibility is severely limited, causing the motorists to unnecessarily endanger themselves, you, and oncoming traffic.”

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 24, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    What you’ve stumbled upon in ##6, 12, and 14 with this “motor vehicle lane” quote is that Representative Wayne Kreiger *does NOT even understand basic aspects of Oregon law* pertinent to the bill he will vote on. Sad, isn’t it?

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  • tonyt April 24, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Oh the irony. I bet that Rep. Kreiger is a licensed driver, he doesn’t know the law, and here he is telling us that WE need to be educated.

    You know, I dated a woman once from Germany, and she told me what she had to go through to get a driver’s license there. Now THAT is an education process. It includes First Responder training and on-the-road testing in ALL conditions, among other things. It’s a freakin test and it’s hard. Not a formality that allows people to go forth, keys in hand without a clue.

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  • BURR April 24, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    814.430(2)(c). Cyclists are allowed the full lane in many instances, and while a following motorist may feel this is unreasonable, it is solely up to the cyclist to make a determination of the necessity, and the decision, to take the lane. And, Peter, doing so does not make one a ‘rogue cyclist’. Simply riding far enough to the left of parked cars to avoid the ‘door zone’ is often sufficient reason to take the lane on most of Portland’s inner city arterials.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 24, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    BURR, thanks for pointing out this rule.

    You are correct that the cyclist will, of course, make the determination of whether safety requires him/her to “take the lane.” However, ORS 814.430(2)(c) states that the cyclist may do so “when reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions,” among other situations. Note that it does not state “when the cyclist decides it is reasonably necessary…” I have not researched this rule, but my guess is that the “reasonably necessary” language means that the decision must be objectively reasonable, as determined by a police officer and/or court or jury, not subjectively reasonable, i.e., as determined in the sole discretion of the cyclist.

    I point this out only because I do not want people to think that they can avoid a citation pursuant to ORS 814.430(1) if they simply say, “I think it was not safe to stay right.” Although they can do that, if the Barnum and Ballsac Circus issues you a ticket in this “most bike-friendly city in the USA,” your determination of unsafety will likely be subject to review by a judge. Of course, I bet you could find some great expert witnesses to support your decision…

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