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Police Bureau: Crash investigation threshold lowered for vulnerable road users

Posted by on January 11th, 2008 at 3:18 pm

A few minutes ago, I posted a story about a potentially new directive within the Police Bureau that would call for all bike-involved collisions to be investigated.

Now I have confirmed with the PPB’s Public Information Officer Brian Schmautz that yes, there will be a modification of their policy, but it is a bit different than what I first assumed.

Acccording to Schmautz, the Police Bureau plans to change its Manual of Policy and Procedures to reflect a new injury threshold for the automatic triggering of a crash investigation.

Currently, one of the seven criteria that triggers an investigation (see them all below) is “Physical injuries with entry into the Regional Trauma System by on-scene EMS personnel.”

Schmautz says the Bureau is currently training its officers on a new injury threshold definition. The new injury threshold will be, “injuries requiring medical transport if it’s vulnerable roadway user”. Vulnerable roadway user is a new term that was put into law by HB 3314 (that went into effect January 1, 2008) and includes anyone on a bicycle, an unenclosed farm vehicle, inline skates, roller skates, or a skateboard.

In essence, there’s no change to the crash investigation criteria if its a car/car collision, but when it’s a bike/car collision, the threshold for an investigation is a trip to the hospital, and not the more serious “trauma injury”. Schmautz says this change will likely occur officially sometime in February.

This is not quite the “all bike-involved collisions” that I reported earlier, but it still means many more investigations will take place. This is nothing short of a positive step in the right direction and I commend the resource-strapped Police Bureau for following through with this change.

This policy change was suggested at the various meetings about enforcement practices back in October and November, and it’s very encouraging to see it actually happen.

Here is the current “Investigation Criteria” from the PPB’s Manual of Policy and Procedure:

    Investigation Criteria (640.50)
    Members will investigate the following types of crashes. This investigation will include completing an Oregon Police Crash Report.
    a. Fatal crashes.
    b. Physical injuries with entry into the Regional Trauma System by on-scene EMS personnel.
    c. Drivers who are under the influence of intoxicants.
    d. Drivers that fail to perform the duties required of them at the scene of a traffic crash (hit and run).
    e. Hazardous material spills: Members should determine if a trained motor carrier officer is on duty from Traffic or other precincts to assist in the investigation.
    f. An emergency code run by the police, whether or not a police vehicle was involved.
    g. When a citation is issued to a driver involved in a crash for a violation other than a vehicle licensing, operator licensing or fi nancial responsibility statute.

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  • Qwendolyn January 11, 2008 at 3:25 pm


    this is still good but the initial report was so so so jaw-droppingly good.

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  • Mike January 11, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    So I guess if you get hit by a car and are not at fault, stay on the ground?

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  • Craig January 11, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    I am a little confused…Mr. Wurster wasn\’t transported to a hospital or scene by EMS according to the story but a traffic division officer was still called?
    Am I missing something or did the officer actually call the traffic division and he really wasn\’t supposed too?

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  • toddistic January 11, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I think the bureau\’s change is appropriate. If you can walk away, then it\’s not worth the taxpayer\’s dollars. I don\’t want another beurocracy, but given the vunerable nature of users who are less protected than their steal coffin overlords, this change only makes sense.

    If you can walk away, be thankful it\’s not a trip to the ER.

    A damaged bike is still covered under the driver\’s insurance and any type of post collision injuries can still be compensated through a settlement from the insurance company.

    It shows our activity in lobbying politicians, rallys, and outcry over collisions is making headway.


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  • toddistic January 11, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Craig @ #3.

    Perhaps the officer issued \”an emergency code run by the police, whether or not a police vehicle was involved.\” (Point F) which would include an investigation.

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  • Joyce January 11, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Vulnerable roadway user is a new term that was put into law by HB 3314 (that went into effect January 1, 2008) and includes anyone on a bicycle, an unenclosed farm vehicle, inline skates, roller skates, or a skateboard.

    Walking or riding an animal is also included.

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  • benschon January 11, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Even if there are no injuries, it sounds like if the driver doesn\’t stop to exchange information, that\’s hit-and-run, and a Crash Report is required. That\’s worth remembering.

    Cuts the other way too, I suppose. If a bike hits a car, no riding away–stop and trade info.

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  • Bjorn January 11, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    This case was a little different than most in that the officer witnessed the accident. I doubt that a citation would have been issued if the case had just been a report. Nice to see that some of the police are actually enforcing the yield to bike lane law when they see it violated.

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  • […] Jonathan at BikePortland notes there is a change in the threshold for investigating collisions. Previously, collisions were only investigated if the injuries were severe enough to require entry […]

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  • Jessica Roberts January 11, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Whom should we thank about this? Chief Sizer?

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  • Stripes January 11, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    This is truely a wonderful step in the right direction!!

    Who might we write a letter of support or send a thankyou card and chocolates to at the PPB?

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  • Appreciative January 11, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    I have heard that the best way to express support of an officer\’s actions is to write the Chief. That way, it trickles down the chain of command to the officer\’s direct supervisor and everyone knows how awesome s/he was. In this case, I\’m sure it would be an excellent thing for the news to move downwards that this new directive is being implemented at the street level.

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  • brainie January 11, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    This is good. Since I always ride my horse to work downtown on Burnside, there should be more incentive for people in cars not to hit me.

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  • Peter W January 11, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    This is good, but is Hillsboro better? I was hit out there last year and someone (not me) called 911, and within minutes there was fire and ambulance, and then a few minutes later the cops showed up and gave a citation to the driver (failure to yield).

    I walked away but it could have easily been much worse. Maybe Hillsboro\’s police only responded because I *could have* taken the ambulance? (I probably should have, since it would have made getting checked up faster and the driver\’s insurance pays anyway).

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  • Metal Cowboy January 11, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    Yes! This is a step in the right direction,We must keep the heat on in 2008, but this does bode well for all the efforts by the community on the issue of vulnerable users. I feel like some of what we\’ve been asking, promoting and working for is being listened to and acted upon.

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  • Jeff January 12, 2008 at 5:36 am


    You folks in Portland know how to get things done. I just wish I could get public officials to listen to me/us/cyclists here in Wisconsin.
    Very good news.

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  • Dave January 12, 2008 at 7:48 am

    It is good to see, if only a tiny bit, the legal system and structure tilted slightly in favor of human-powered travel. I say that the equal protection clause can suck my&*%$ when it comes to traffic law.

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  • Kevin Hedahl January 12, 2008 at 9:09 am

    This is a fantastic change in policy. This shows exactly what happens when groups, like the BTA, work hard behind the scenes to work with the system. We have a great city that has had only a few obstacles in the path of change.

    Full disclosure – My fiance works at the BTA, so I know exactly how much time and energy they have spent talking with the mayor, city commissioners, and the PPB. Job well done!

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  • Jim O'Horo January 12, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Great news! Thanks to all who helped make this happen.

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  • Mike January 12, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    It\’s good to thank the dedicated individuals and organizations who help to facilitate these positive changes in our community.

    Let\’s also, however, remember the riders who have been seriously injured or killed during the past year. It is their personal tragedies that have galvanized the cycling community and brought the issue of vulnerable user to the community\’s attention. It is the courageous voices of their grieving families and friends that demand action from politicians and our legal system.

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  • antonio gramsci January 13, 2008 at 4:15 am

    Yes, it\’s encouraging to know that the police now feel the need to do the absolute bare minimum that people have been expecting of them and then shocked to discover they\’ve not heretofore been doing.

    We\’re definitely not out of the woods yet though: the roads will not truly be safe for \”vulnerable users\” until motorists are as afraid of the potential legal consequences to themselves of driving carelessly as bystanders are of getting hit.

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  • PoPo January 13, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    Even if all the other \”mandatory investigation\” standards aren\’t met, officers can still conduct an investigation. In fact, traffic officers will sometimes come and conduct one at a \”minor\” accident if they aren\’t tied up on something else. That looks like what happened today, assuming Mr. Wurster wasn\’t transported to the hospital. Unfortunately, there are simply too few traffic officers available at any one time, and they are often busy with other stuff (like mandatory investigations). We are desperate for officers, by the way, if anyone is interested in applying….

    Non-traffic, \”prowl officers\” can do investigations, but are often out of practice, and always under pressure to move on to the next call for service.

    I heard that years ago the Police Bureau used to conduct a full investigation of every accident, but then started restricting investigations because too many officers were tied up on less serious accidents (though any accident is certainly serious to the people involved), and were unavailable for priority 911 calls.

    I was out of the office at training last week, so missed the memo. I\’ll let people know if there is anything additional to mention beyond what Jonathan found out regarding this new standard for traffic investigations.

    An e-mail to the chief\’s address would be a great way to provide positive feedback regarding this policy change: chiefsizer@portlandpolice.org

    If Mr. Wurster wanted to provide the names of the officers who helped him, you could mention them in the e-mail to the chief. That would make its way back to those officers. Because of the location, I assume the officers were from Southeast Precinct and the Traffic Division, but can\’t know for sure.

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  • a.O January 14, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Dear Chief Sizer,

    Thank you for promoting the Nazi and for doing the absolute bare minimum necessary to acknowledge that the Portlanders riding bicycles on the streets of our fair City are people, too.

    I\’d like to especially thank you for waiting to act until intense political pressure had built up from all corners on the City government, until after countless man-hours were expended stinging cyclists in residential neighborhoods during weekdays, until numerous citizens had become outraged at such a backward policy, and until after several people had already died and the perps gotten away without citations.

    Your readership really instills confidence. Particularly inspiring is the fact that the officer responding to Jason\’s collision apparently couldn\’t even recite the correct policy.

    I\’m sure the days of harassing cyclists, pepper spraying babies, arresting people for free expression, and murdering homeless people are in the distant past now. Yippee!!

    I just can\’t understand why no one with a brain wants to join the PPB. Go figure.


    Still F-in Outraged

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  • Jasun Wurster January 14, 2008 at 7:44 am

    No Problem PoPo,

    Sgt. Westerman was the officer who was behind me and mentioned that the directive had come down. He then called Traffic officer Major who did the investigation.

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  • tonyt January 14, 2008 at 9:50 am

    a.O, while I do agree that there is no shortage of things to be outraged about with the PPB, we do have to be careful about setting up a \”damned if they do, damned if they don\’t\” dynamic. The PPB made a positive change. Let\’s not only use this stage to complain. If that\’s all they ever get from us, what\’s the incentive to do the right thing?

    Onto the main issue.

    I\’m still kind of confused on the citation issued for the crash involving Jasun.

    Did the officer actually witness the crash? If so, that would make the citation more of a given which would then kick in item \”g.\”

    \”g. When a citation is issued to a driver involved in a crash for a violation other than a vehicle licensing, operator licensing or financial responsibility statute.\”


    So if a citation is issued, what does a crash investigation actually do? Or is the citation the result of a investigation?

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  • groundshero January 14, 2008 at 10:47 am

    I was doored in May 07, taken by EMS to area trauma center, but there was no investigation or citation of the driver, and in the end it all cost about 17k.

    So, new policy or not, it\’s only as good as the officers who have to follow the policy, and they conditions they\’re working under.
    If they didn\’t follow the old one, they won\’t follow the new one.

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  • Stripes January 14, 2008 at 10:54 am

    To thank the Police Chief Rosie Sizer for this big step in the right direction –

    chiefsizer [at] portlandpolice.org

    Police Chief Rosie Sizer
    Portland Police Bureau
    1111 S.W. 2nd Avenue
    Portland, Oregon 97204

    Chief\’s Office Phone, 503-823-0000
    Chief\’s Office Fax, 503-823-0342

    Contact information found at –

    (where you can also find a comments form to email the Chief too).

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  • brady January 14, 2008 at 11:01 am

    @tonyt #25:
    tonyt, you are absolutely right. Our attitudes and actions can have a great impact on the likelihood that someone will \”do the right thing\”, particularly in those instances–and there are many–where \”doing the right thing\” is not required (or even addressed) by the law.

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  • brady January 14, 2008 at 11:18 am

    I am wondering if in cases not meeting the \”Investigation Criteria\” described in the article, the decision as to whether to investigate is left to the officer? I ask because last summer I was hit by the mirror of a car while descending a hill. While this caused me to lose control and wreck, no broken bones/concussion was suffered… just road rash and bruising. The car stopped (surprise!) and I called 911 to get an officer. Ambulances came, I refused treatment at the scene. When the officer arrived I asked for a report, saying that if I needed to go to the E.R. so a police report would be filed, I would, but would prefer just to get a report and skip the ER. The officer took statements from the driver, a report was made and some sort of citation was issued to the driver. From what I\’m reading here, though, it seems as if the officer didn\’t have to take the report?? so maybe there\’s some luck of the draw, or something. (Also, I was hit on the West side of the West Hills, almost to Beaverton; maybe this officer didn\’t have much to do that morning.) I think if an officer has enough time to write $242 tickets to people who roll (not outright blow) stops, he or she also must have enough time to investigate wrecks, emergency room or no.

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  • PoPo January 14, 2008 at 5:11 pm


    The crash \”investigation\” reports the incident to the DMV, and in a way documents the gathering of the evidence that supports probable cause for the citation.

    If the officer personally witnesses the violation, he/she can issue the ticket without conducting the full investigation, a pretty quick operation. He or she then simply appears at traffic court to testify to the judge about what he/she saw.

    If the officer didn\’t witness the violation, as usually happens with accidents, he/she has to interview witnesses (if there are any) and document their statements, take measurements, draw a sketch of the accident scene, determine the initial point of impact, etc. Then he/she can issue a citation, based on the findings. This operation is more technical and takes significantly longer, keeps traffic shut down longer, etc, which is why I think the Bureau tried to start limiting them to more \”serious\” accidents–though certainly any accident feels quite serious for the people involved. This particular directive is a perfect example of people trying to figure out how to manage limited resources.

    I think there are probably lots of people who read this blog who would be good officers, and we can indeed use them, though as we all see, it can feel a little thankless sometimes!

    I\’ve also learned from working in this large bureaucracy that positive reinforcement does have an effect. The Southeast Precinct Bicycle Patrol is a case in point. We originally intended to try it for a couple of months, but lots of people voiced their support for it, resulting in its existence for two years and counting now, in spite of internal pressure to cut because of lack of personnel.

    I know people have disappointing experiences with some officers. I would feel frustrated, angry, powerless, all sorts of emotions about that. It\’s only human to feel these ways, and depending on the particular situations, certainly justified.

    I would say that positive, constructive criticism will get us farther down the roads of reform that we want to navigate, however. It is simply too easy to dismiss or delete the emotional, attacking comments. And it is so easy to send those these days, it is probably the thoughtful stuff that sticks out. 🙂

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  • […] protocols for handling car-on-bike crashes. Last year, for instance, Portland’s police department lowered the threshold for generating a police report for crashes involving "vulnerable roadway users" — a new legal category encompassing […]

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