Following our story last week, more information has been revealed about mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith’s driving record. His poor record, first brought to light months ago, was made public in greater detail by The Oregonian last week. Given that the way people operate their vehicles is an important transportation safety issue, I posted a story about this after reading about it in The Oregonian. The comment thread is full of a diverse range of reactions, and folks seem evenly split as to whether or not Smith’s driving record matters.
Today, Jefferson Smith shared a more extensive and detailed account of his driving record with The Portland Mercury (as well as sharing a Q & A about it in the comments). Now we know his record includes a whopping seven speeding tickets between 1994 and 2009:
6/27/1994 – Speeding – 95 in 55
4/2/1995 – Speeding – 69 in 45
5/17/1995 – Speeding – 80 in 65
10/22/1995 – Speeding – 80 in 55
7/20/2002 – Speeding – 52 in 35
1/28/2003 – Speeding – 75 in 50
1/11/2009 – Speeding – 40 in 25
Not only are some of those well over the speed limit, they are only some of the many violations he’s received while behind the wheel (there’s also a “Failure to yield to an emergency vehicle”).
Christopher Heaps, a former Portland resident who now lives in Bend (you might remember him as the lawyer who filed a citizen citation and won), shared via Twitter today that he feels, “95mph in a 55 zone isn’t just “embarrassing,” it’s criminally negligent, IMHO. Smith is unfit to drive.”
Not surprisingly, these revelations have sent some minor shockwaves through the local transportation advocacy world. Supporters of Smith are defending his record as something that is a minor personality flaw that happened mostly in the past; while others are saying the lack of responsibility and multiple suspension are very troubling.
Jessica Roberts, a carfree mom, former staffer of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and current consultant at Alta Planning + Design, said via Twitter this morning that, “That kind of driver behavior is what could well kill me, my child, my loved ones, my friends. Public enemy #1.” Roberts also said that Smith’s driving record is enough to keep her from voting from him.
Other commenters say Smith’s accomplishments and public policy record far outweigh his bad driving past, and that the campaign should be about track records on important civic issues, not personal driving records.
But (especially) for people who ride bikes, a record of dangerous driving isn’t just personal, it can lead to injury or death of a vulnerable road user. It also shows a general lack of respect and seriousness for the consequences of dangerous driving.
This issue also makes for awkward politics for the folks behind Bike Walk Vote, the local political action committee that endorsed Smith. One of the lead volunteers for Bike Walk Vote, environmental advocate and political consultant Evan Manvel, also happens to be the former executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, where he rallied against dangerous drivers and speeding.
Manvel pointed out today that Charlie Hales, Smith’s competition in the mayor’s race, also has a record of driving tickets (The Oregonian reported that Hales has two since 2007; one for speeding and one for failing to obey a traffic control device). Via Twitter this morning, Manvel said, “We’re not voting on the 1994-2004 Jeff[erson], but the 2012 one.” He also tweeted that, “I think Jeff’s grown and gotten more serious over time. I’m not defending either’s driving record.”
But Hales’ record is nowhere near as bad as Smith’s. Smith has said he’s embarrassed by his driving history and that he’s gotten much better in recent years. But after today’s big reveal in the Mercury, that might not be enough for many people. For more on this issue, read the story in the Mercury and read Smith’s comment where he shares an extensive Q & A on the issue.
UPDATE 2:30 pm: Bike Walk Vote has released a statement:
“… Jefferson has matured since his earlier days. The evidence shows his driving behavior has improved…Since 2005, both mayoral candidates have been ticketed twice for moving violations: once for speeding and once failing to obey traffic control devices. Smith also has a paperwork violation… We are not hiring either candidate to be our driver…”