Many of us are aware that a person can be convicted of careless driving (ORS 811.135) for operating their motor vehicle in a manner that “endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.”
But did you realize that bicycle operators are also subject to this statute?
Familiarize yourself with the salient parts of the statute below (Note: This is the “vulnerable roadway users” statute, which was slightly modified this session):
811.135 Careless driving; penalty.
(1) A person commits the offense of careless driving if the person drives any vehicle upon a highway or other premises described in this section in a manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.
(2) The offense described in this section, careless driving, applies on any premises open to the public…
(3)… if the court determines that the commission of the offense described in this section contributed to the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way, the court shall:
(a) Impose a sentence that requires the person to:
(A) Complete a traffic safety course; and
(B) Perform between 100 and 200 hours of community service, notwithstanding ORS 137.129. The community service must include activities related to driver improvement and providing public education on traffic safety;
(b) Impose, but suspend on the condition that the person complete the requirements of paragraph (a) of this subsection:
(A) A fine of up to $12,500, notwithstanding ORS 153.018; and
(B) A suspension of driving privileges as provided in ORS 809.280; and
(c) Set a hearing date up to one year from the date of sentencing.
(4) At the hearing described in subsection (3)(c) of this section, the court shall:
(a) If the person has successfully completed the requirements described in subsection (3)(a) of this section, dismiss the penalties imposed under subsection (3)(b) of this section; or
(b) If the person has not successfully completed the requirements described in subsection (3)(a) of this section:
(A) Grant the person an extension based on good cause shown; or
(B) Impose the penalties under subsection (3)(b) of this section.
(6) The police officer issuing the citation for an offense under this section shall note on the citation if the cited offense [appears to have] contributed to the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way.
We tend to think of careless driving as it pertains to the typical street environment. In that context, due to the vast difference in the physical footprint between a bike and a car, it’s rare that someone could operate a bicycle in a way that endangers a person or property.
But let’s go off-road for a minute onto a different type of public space, the multi-use path. Few people realize it, but this serious offense also applies there too.
(Illustration by Dan Pegoda/Animated Traffic Law Center for BikePortland.org)
On multi-use paths (think the Eastbank Esplanade or Hawthorne Bridge deck), people on bikes sometimes assume the role that cars play on the streets. Prey becomes predator so to speak and people walking on paths are an afterthought; or worse, an obstacle to speedy progress.
Remember, careless driving applies to all vehicles “on any premises open to the public.” The law is clear: a person operating a bicycle has the potential to inflict harm upon others and/or their property and you failure to exercise due care you are legally liable.
Don’t let your need to save a few seconds get you in legal hot water — or worse — lead to serious injuries to those around you.
— Bike Law 101 appears twice a month thanks to the generous support of West End Bikes PDX (corner of 11th and SW Stark in downtown Portland). It’s written by Karen Lally and Kurt Jansen of the non-profit Animated Traffic Law Center based in Eugene, Oregon. For more info on bike law, browse the Bike Law 101 archives