Oregon House, Senate Committees will hold hearing on Vehicular Homicide

Posted by on January 6th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Next week at the Capitol Building in Salem, the Senate and House Interim Judiciary Committees will hold a joint hearing. Part of the informational meeting will include “invited testimony” on the concept of Vehicular Homicide.

Invited to be at the hearing are Bicycle Transportation Alliance board member Doug Parrow will be there, as will Portland lawyer Ray Thomas. Thomas tells us he plans to bring several of his former clients who have lost loved ones in traffic crashes to testify.

The Oregon Legislature meets for full sessions only every other year, with the off years (of which 2010 is one) only for emergency or high-priority actions. While the meeting is meant as an informational session, Thomas says he’s hopeful that something more substantial will come out of it.

The City of Portland and BTA have worked for years to pass a strong vehicular homicide law but Oregon has yet to pass one. As far back as 2006, traffic safety staffers at PBOT have considered potential options for such a law. In the 2007 legislative session, in the wake of a crash that killed Tim O’Donnell while he rode on a rural road in Washington County, the BTA introduced a vehicular homicide bill.

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That 2007 bill introduction was just a precursor to a more serious effort to pass the law in 2009.

Last session, former BTA Executive Director and head lobbyist Scott Bricker worked to pass H.B. 3399. In a hearing on the bill back in April he told legislators that the BTA was, “seeking a new Vehicular Homicide Law for Oregon to better protect roadway users by increasing penalties for drivers who cause deaths as a result of their habitual violation of traffic laws.”

Unfortunately the bill died in committee. However, the BTA’s Doug Parrow told us at the time that Representative Jeff Barker (head of the House Judiciary Committee) “recognizes this is a serious problem” and that he intended to work with the BTA on a “much stronger bill” down the road.

Lawyer Ray Thomas told us today that next week he’ll implore legislators to follow the example of 11 other states that already have a vehicular homicide law on the books (stay tuned for his in-depth report on the topic). Thomas says Oregon needs a law that raises the level of culpability for someone who makes an error that leads to a fatality while operating a vehicle. “There’s no decision someone can make on a daily basis that is more dangerous to the vulnerable road users around them than driving a motor vehicle.”

In Thomas’ ideal scenario, Oregon’s vehicular homicide law would create a felony crime for someone who drives on a suspended license, commits a traffic violation, and kills someone. He’d want a misdemeanor to be levied if someone with a valid license commits a traffic violation that leads to a fatality. (Note: Both crimes would come with probation, community service, and other consequences, but not jail time.)

The hearing begins at 8:00 am and is open to the public. More hearing details here.

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28 Comments
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    Nick January 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    While the intent is noble, I fear that the only effect would be to throw more dysfunctional people into jail, where they will only become more dysfunctional. I guess they can’t run anyone over while in jail, so perhaps it’s better than what we have now. But our “justice” system is often more about revenge and sadism than it is about actually producing the best outcome for everyone.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) January 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Nick,

    I’ve updated the article with a key piece of info RE: your comment. The idea with a new veh. hom. bill as I understand it would be that it wouldn’t come with jail time. thanks.

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    Nick January 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Ah, sorry, I got all worked up there for a moment.

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    t.a. barnhart January 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    i would really like to attend this hearing but do not have the necessary transportation. is anyone going who i can share a ride with?

    thanks.

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    K'Tesh January 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    I too *might* be able to attend, provided transportation.

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    are January 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    what kind of felony does not come with jail time? how about a suspended imposition of sentence with a condition of probation being that you don’t operate a car for however many months or years.

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    Mark January 6, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    ta & k’tesh

    I “may” be able to give you a ride down to Salem. I don’t think that I could make 8:00 am down there. But, looks like there may be other discussion first.

    Leaving Tigard/Tualatin. May have to look at some job sites on the way back.

    mark@cleanitupmark.com

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    Suburban January 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Several felonies are without prison time. Some have minimum prison time, it’s all there in the ORS.
    The question I’m trying to answer is “what felonies come with permanent revocation of car driving privileges.” I hear cows have right of way in parts of India. Thanks for covering this pivotal legislation.

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    KWW January 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Any vehicular homicide should be a felony

    Loss of license for 5-10 years

    Why is the privilege of driving so hard to take away?

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    q`Tzal January 6, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Transit for the truly adventurous:
    The Wilsonville Smart Transit route 1X leaves the Wilsonville Station at 6:25am and 6:55am and arrives at the State
    Capitol in Salem at 7:14am and 7:44am.
    Fare is $2.50 for the Salem bus.
    Further, one could catch the WES Commuter Rail at the Beaverton TC at 5:58am and 6:28am.

    I’d guess that with 3 or more people and a vehicle with reasonable MPG it would be cheaper to carpool? Would it also be quicker? I don’t go this way but have heard bad things about the rush hour between Portland and Salem.

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    DT January 6, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    As someone who does not own a car, I am enjoying the irony in the juxtaposition of comment #9 “Why is the privilege of driving so hard to take away?” and comment #10 where we see the amount of overhead required to get from Beaverton to Salem by public transit. I’d say it’s so hard to take it away because it is a presumed necessity for a large swath of the population.

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    Aaron January 7, 2010 at 2:05 am

    DT, very well said. I also see the irony in reading about the many people who would love to participate in this important discussion about safety on the road. But the people, like me, who are most at risk (those who don’t drive) are also the least capable of getting down to Salem. I don’t know what the solution is

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    Steven J January 7, 2010 at 2:46 am

    I fail to see the difference between a 180 grain bullet and a 3000 pound car.

    use a gun go to prison…use a car go to traffic school.

    It really IS that simple.

    Riders know how close they come to their mortality nearly every ride.

    If the Lawyers were taken out to the freeway and made to change a car tire on the side of the road, they might get just a glimpse of what it’s like to commute by bike.
    what’s amazing is that police are in the that situation all the time, have even enacted laws to protect themselves, yet when it comes to pulling over a vehicle that’s buzzed a rider, they simply look the other way.

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    Jack January 7, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Sort of on topic…

    Unlicensed driving is a huge problem, but a laregly unenforceable one. This in turn makes other traffic violations more common because many people don’t really fear having their license revoked.

    Every state in the US requires various license(s) to operate vehicles on public roadways. All modern vehicles already have some degree of computing power in them. So why don’t we require new cars to incorporate a simple license scanner, much like the breathalizer device for repeat DUI offenders, that requires drivers to swipe a valid license before ignition?

    Aside from the occasional person who might find a work-around — which would also be deemed a crime — this would take a lot of dangerous drivers off the road very quickly and as a bonus, boost the rate of carpooling.

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    are January 7, 2010 at 7:26 am

    comment 14, yes, and do you think BTA is going to get behind that?

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    mechanic Mark January 7, 2010 at 7:35 am

    I see several people that would like convicted offenders to lose their driving privilege. If they’re driving on a suspended license in the first place, they’re gonna do it again. How about confiscating the vehicle?

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    mechanic Mark January 7, 2010 at 7:36 am

    …or cutting off their shifting hand.

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    Fatboy January 7, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Expand th epowers of police to regulate MOTORISED vehicle operators. Drivers should fear police, regardless of their class, color, or gender. Clearly, they don’t now.

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    Bob_M January 7, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Interlocks are available to deny driving priveleges to drunken drivers. One must blow clean into the device to get it to allow starting of the car. It is easy to imagine a similar device on a felon’s car that would be activated by a card key.

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    q`Tzal January 7, 2010 at 10:58 am

    #14 & #19
    To be effective a driver’s license interlock would need to be installed on EVERY vehicle not just the new ones.

    The argument against this will be the imposed cost of implementing it. Who pays for hardware?
    It might be cheaper to go with a fingerprint scanner that gets it’s authorized driver list updated in person at a DEQ or DMV.
    If you don’t mind a little Big Brother allow the fingerprint scanner to link up to the DMV database so that it can get a current status on the driver’s eligibility to operate a motor vehicle.

    Overall, I prefer increasing the direct price of fuel and the vehicle.

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    Bob_M January 7, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Regardless of what method or technology is used, once you perform a felony with your car you should be subject to the oversight and control of Big Brother. It is still a slap on the wrist compared to hard time.

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    q`Tzal January 7, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    We have the right to bear arms but there is nothing saying that Big Brother can’t track your ownership.
    There is no protection of the right to drive a automobile and it can easily cause the same damage as a firearm. Everyone that the government entrusts to drive a motor vehicle needs to be tracked.

    Perspective: if the DMV was a private entity they would have already been sued for licensing dangerous people.

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    Jack January 7, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    q’Tzal –

    The cost of the device could included in the price of the car just like every other legally required feature (seatbelts). So the person buying the car pays for the device.

    Fingerprint scanners are a novelty, not a reliable means of identifying people. Card scanners are very simple and reliable devices.

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    KWW January 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    DT, I realize the presumed necessity of the majority to drive on our roads, but I think Oregon can bear the burden of permanently taking people who have committed vehicular homicide off the road for 5-10 years minimum.

    Don’t forget 3 DUI’s in Oregon is PERMANENT REVOCATION of driving privileges. WHY CAN’T WE HAVE THIS FOR SOMEONE WHO KILLS WITH A VEHICLE???

    What is reasonable is that the penalties be relative to other penalties already on the books.

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    q`Tzal January 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    #23
    How do you plan on convincing car owners that they need to buy a device, which if is secure enough to deter all but the most determined hacker, will cost at least $500 to a $1000?
    Any workable implementation of an interlock system would make the key turn ignition system obsolete.

    Fingerprint scanners are becoming increasingly inexpensive and more reliable.
    Magnetic cards are essentially no security any more.
    Smart cards have also been hacked.
    RFID has also been hacked.

    Much as I hate the idea that the government would have access (insecure databases, civil servant on a power trip) to a record of every time I drive a vehicle I do like the idea that they would be able to disable the vehicle of ANY criminal when stopped. Heck with some modifications police car chases would be a thing of the past.

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  • […] Oregon they’re moving ahead on vehicular homicide legislation. Let’s hope Washington State legislators can follow suit in […]

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    RyNO Dan January 7, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    If you commit a traffic violation that results in the death of a vulnerable road user, you should go to jail. period. That’s my opinion.

    Mitigating circumstances ? Fine. You go to jail for a shorter time.

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    BB January 8, 2010 at 4:27 am

    Ford has just introduced an 8 inch screen with internet. Surely it won’t be too expensive to make them install EDRs and scanners.

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