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.
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.