A new directive at the Police Bureau?

According to an experience this morning by a reader, a potentially significant and positive change has been made at the Portland Police Bureau: a new directive that says all bike-related collisions will be investigated.

I share his story below (more analysis follows):

A little after 8:00 am this morning, Jasun Wurster was riding his bike westbound on SE Madison Avenue, approaching the intersection with Grand before pedaling over the Hawthorne Bridge.

Jasun was riding in the bike lane when a Subaru Legacy cut in front of him, causing him to run into the rear bumper and get knocked to the ground. Luckily Jasun was not hurt, but it’s what happened next that’s important.

Wurster’s traffic crash report:
a sign of change at the Police Bureau?

There just so happened to be a Portland Police officer parked in the bus lane just a few feet from the collision. After both Jasun and the driver of the Subaru had stopped to check in with each other, the officer approached.

“First, he wanted to make sure I was OK,” Jasun said, “and then he told me that a new directive had come down that all bicycle collisions are to be investigated.”

Sure enough, the officer phoned for backup from the Traffic Division. When the Traffic Division officer showed up, he immediately conducted a rudimentary investigation and found the Subaru driver was at fault and in violation of ORS 811.050, failure to yield to a bicycle in a bike lane.

The driver, who Wurster says was initially very kind and sympathic, began to object and complain once the citation was issued. Wurster was shocked at what happened next, “The cop was very stern with him and said, ‘would you still be complaining if you had killed him?’.”

Wurster told me that the driver was “taken aback” after hearing that from the cop and he added, “I was very proud of the PPB this morning.”

If Wurster’s story is true, and assuming the officer was not misinformed, this would be a big departure from the previous policy that said traffic crashes are only investigated if they met certain criteria. One of those criteria — which unfortunately comes into play with many bike/car collisions — is that one of the victims must have sustained “Level 1 Trauma” injuries (essentially very serious or life-threatening) before an investigation is automatically triggered.

Investigations are key because they allow the responding officer to find fault and issue citations immediately (this has ramifications for the public dialogue around traffic safety and for any ensuing insurance claims).

The Police Bureau’s crash investigation policy as it pertains to bike-related collisions has been a point of contention for many years. The policy was thrown into the spotlight in early November of last year when Siobhan Doyle was hit by a car that turned into the bike lane she occupied. Doyle sustained very serious injuries, but because she was not deemed to have reached the “Level 1 Trauma” threshold by the EMTs on the scene, no investigation was made and the driver was not cited (this is the case that spurred a local group of activists to file a citizen-initiated citation).

[It’s important to note that I’m sure the current policy of not issuing a citation at fatal collisions would remain. (This is something the DA tells the Bureau to do, as to not interfere with their investigations).]

If indeed this new directive has been issued (and I’m still trying to confirm it), it would mark a significant, and very positive step forward in the Bureau’s effort to improve the safety of vulnerable road users.

Let’s hope that it is true and that it’s just the first of many more steps forward.

UPDATE, 3:21pm: It looks like the new directive isn’t quite as amazing as first thought…but it’s still great news. Read this update.

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