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Mayor Hales: Spate of fatal crashes ‘unacceptable’

Posted by on March 19th, 2013 at 9:21 am

Active Transportation Debate at PSU-5

Mayor Hales
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Office of Mayor Charlie Hales put out a statement this morning saying that “traffic fatalities are too high” and “Portlanders must drive sober.”

Here are the opening paragraphs:

“The number of people dying in traffic crashes on Portland streets this year is unacceptable according to Mayor Charlie Hales. In office for less than 80 days, the new mayor was alarmed that there have already been 11 traffic fatalities with five of those 11 involving driving under the influence.

“Every person who dies in a crash represents a family and community tragedy. So far in 2013, we’re averaging about one death a week. That’s unacceptable,” Hales said. “Leadership at the Transportation Bureau, Portland Police Bureau and I are alarmed that five people have lost their lives this year related to driving under the influence. Drive sober to save lives. Doing otherwise is illegal and reckless.”

While the headline of this statement is about drunk driving, it appears a majority of fatalities so far (6 out of 11) did not involve driving under the influence. Reading the entire statement, it’s clear this is an effort by Mayor Hales to show he is serious about safety. After all, he’s getting a lot of heat for presiding over a PBOT budget that cut a sidewalk project in east Portland in order to fund more paving. Hales is also coming off a campaign where he repeatedly said that he’s take a “roads-first” approach and that paving would be PBOT’s #1 priority.

To show that his administration is doing more than just talk about transportation safety, Hales pointed to PBOT’s ongoing High Crash Corridor program (which was started by Mayor Sam Adams). Beyond that, the statement included no mention of any new programs or policies that would amplify existing safety efforts.

This is the second transportation safety statement Mayor Hales has made this month. On March 1st, following the tragic collision that killed a five-year-old girl who was crossing a notoriously dangerous street in southeast Portland, Hales said, “Safety throughout the city has to be our first priority. I have been at work fewer than 60 days, and so far the city of Portland has experienced eight automobile-related fatalities, four of which were pedestrian deaths… public safety has to be our North Star, guiding all of our decisions in every part of the city.”

Read the full statement here.

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  • Bjorn March 19, 2013 at 9:38 am

    If Hales really cares about DUII deaths then maybe he should do something about most buses stopping their runs before the bars close, or the inadequate number of cab medalions that can make it impossible to get a cab when a bar closes. Would it stop all DUI’s? No obviously not but enforcement is only going to go so far and I’d like to see the mayor do something about creating options for people who are intoxicated instead of just saying “don’t drink and drive mmmkay”.

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    • q'Tzal March 19, 2013 at 10:19 am

      1st DUI offense: suspend driver’s license and give a 1 year free full system transit pass that allows the offender zero cost use of all public transit 24/7/365.
      2nd DUI offense: permanently revoke and disallow driver’s license. Assign permanent transit pass as above.

      Surely the cost of getting the most dangerous drivers out from behind the wheel with free transit HAS To be less than the carnage they cause.

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      • Unit March 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm

        The compulsory transit pass is a great idea. For anyone living, working, or caught dring drunk in the TriMet service area, the DUII fines should include an annual pass for 1, 2, or 3 years in addition to the standard penalties.

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  • Jeff Bernards March 19, 2013 at 9:48 am

    What’s needed is better enforcement (more police officers) paid for with an alcohol tax. If 1/2 the accidents are alcohol related maybe it’s time the product covered some of the cost to society? I remember Ben Cannon tried 5 cents on a beer, you thought the world was going to end. The whining from Widmer was too much. 5 cents won’t end their empire.

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    • ed March 19, 2013 at 11:04 am

      No, what’s needed is more responsibility by drivers, not more cash out of the pockets of responsible people.

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      • Oliver March 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm

        The conversation that we are having is de facto evidence that the drivers of whom you speak are not willing to give it up willingly. Society must then take this responsibility from them, by force or mandate as it is incumbent upon the people (who comprise this government) to provide us a modicum of safety from those who have proven themselves too lazy, selfish, irresponsible or reckless to give this consideration of their own accord.

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      • Jeff Bernards March 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm

        We can’t decipher who drinks responsibly and who doesn’t each and everyday. A General 5 cent tax won’t kill you, it could end up protecting you! That’s like smokers that say they don’t inhale, maybe we shouldn’t tax them? We tax all smokers because of the reality of the health consequences from smoking. It should be the same for alcohol.

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        • ed March 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

          Why not assess higher fees to promote all forms of vehicular safety? $20 bucks per car per year should make a dent (and ought to be affordable). How about adding another $5 per gallon to address the real costs of autos on society at the same time? Even better, why not ban all cars in the urban area and wrap everyone in bubble wrap ’cause, you know, it might “protect” me from far more than just drunk drivers (like distracted and incompetent ones).

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    • Granpa March 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      A tax on beer and wine (I think booze is already taxed) would not only get drinkers to pay for the damage cause by drinkers, but it would also be a (minor) disincentive to the use of alcohol. I love beer, but I won’t claim that it serves the societal good. To quote Homer Simpson, “Alcohol, the cause of and solution to all life’s problems”

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  • sw resident March 19, 2013 at 9:53 am

    If Hales is really serious about DUII deaths he should introduce legislation to make the punishment for a first time DUII offense the life-long loss of a driver’s license. If that driver is caught for another infraction of any sort and are using an out-of-state license then make the punishment 5 years or so in jail.

    There is NEVER an excuse for consuming alcohol in any amount and operating a motor vehicle. With phones and radios there are enough impairments as it is. Driving is a serious task.

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  • ScottB March 19, 2013 at 9:56 am

    While the vision is certainly zero traffic fatalities, it is likely to never be realized. It will take a paradigm shift in thinking of not only the elected officials, road designers and builders, but also the road users, every one of them, to even get close to the vision. Speeds must come down. Signals are proven less safe (and less efficient) than modern roundabouts in most situations. Enforcement of speeding needs to kick in before motorists get to 10 mph over the posted speed. In towns where people know the police will ticket at 5 over, people do slow down. All of these are strategies to achieve the goal and each one by itself will make a dent, but only by doing them all might we begin to see safety like Western Europe has.
    And just to be nit-picky. Alarm at short term crash numbers might play well, but implies a lack of understanding of statistics. It would be the same mistake as saying zero traffic fatalities in 3 months means we could cut safety spending.

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    • Adam March 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm

      Agreed. Also, where the hell is the DMV in this conversation? If they actually trained people to driver properly and safely, we wouldn’t have to be doing this infinite damage control re: unsafe driving…

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      • El Biciclero March 20, 2013 at 9:52 am

        True that that the Oregon driver’s license testing/training process makes it easy enough for anyone that can reach the gas pedal to get a license, but I doubt that speeding, drunk driving, texting and driving, reckless and aggressive driving, stop sign and red light running, etc. are happening because people don’t know better or weren’t trained not to do those things. Most humans tend to go to the limit of what we think we can get away with–and what our consciences will allow. The problem with drivers (or insert name of your demographic here) in this society tends to be that our consciences will allow quite a bit because we think “we can handle it”, “everybody does it”, and “it was the other guy’s fault”. Rationalization without rationality. The problem with driving is that it’s too easy for those things that “everybody does” or you think you “can handle” to kill people. It’s not the same as throwing your used gum on the sidewalk, though people tend to treat bad driving that way.

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        • Tacoma March 20, 2013 at 4:15 pm

          Thoughtful post. If I may add one thing: “Or we treat our luck at avoiding catastrophes with ‘skill’.”

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    • Jeff M March 20, 2013 at 12:23 am

      Yes. I think it is a knee jerk reaction to say, ‘we must create harsher penalties.’ But, we’ve tried that and it isn’t working – or isn’t working well enough. I think it will take a cultural shift in transportation. Make walking/biking more convenient than driving, add more transportation options, and create calmer streets.

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  • q'Tzal March 19, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Driving sober needs to include scientifically recognized alcohol DUI equivalents:
    Prescription drugs,
    Cell phone use (hand held for sure, studies are mixed whether hands free actually makes a difference)
    Fishing around in floorboards of moving vehicle
    Personal hygiene (makeup or shaving)
    Eating and drinking,
    Watching videos,
    Reading newspapers or books.

    So many distractions exist that we can easily indulge.
    They are so numerous as to become socially acceptable despite common knowledge that they are dangerous.
    We need to reassign fault back to the driver not paying attention to their driving rather than accepting it as an “accident”.

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    • Spiffy March 19, 2013 at 11:16 am

      Other countries laugh at us for having cup-holders in motor-vehicles since we can’t possibly do a safe job of driving if we’re so relaxed that we’re having a drink.

      Stop putting everything at the driver’s fingertips. Remember when you had to pull over to consult a map? Or go to the trunk to change the CD?

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    • maxd March 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      Riding home yesterday on Interstate, a black Charger wandered into the bike lane, then slowly over-compensated to the point where its wheels actually rubbed the wall/curb adjacent to the Max tracks. When I caught up the guy, he had a HEAPING plate of food, and he was just shoveling it in! Kinda scary, kinda funny.

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  • Brian March 19, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Within the past 3 weeks, I have personally witnessed two seperate occasions where drivers of city vehicles were making a right turn while running a red light, I noted license plate numbers, time and location and sent forwarded the info to safe@portlandoregon.gov and save for a response from A. Fritz have been disappointed by the cities lack of interest.

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  • 9watts March 19, 2013 at 11:03 am

    CHARLIE rides a bike…

    what happened to that?

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    • bun March 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      he (and you, and i) can still get a duii on a bike, same rules. so yes, these suggestions of stiffening the duii laws would apply to someone riding they’re bike home from the bar… or mmr.

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      • 9watts March 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm

        You mean a BUII?
        Yeah, sure. And It is possible to kill someone by running over them with a bike. But using language that treats this as a problem that spans all modes is disingenuous. The problem, as usual, is with car with person inside not paying enough attention.

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        • bun March 19, 2013 at 3:44 pm

          sorry, i guess i just wanted to point out that a DUII would still apply to charlie on his bike. guess i misunderstood your original comment.

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  • Chris March 19, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Almost every night I drive on the freeways in town I see someone swerving and struggling to stay in their lane. I’m not surprised to read that accidents and fatalities are up.

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  • Champs March 19, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I recall roads-first as the implication when Hales talked about getting “back to basics”, not the actual quotation.

    Streets that don’t kill people would seem like a basic priority, but…

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  • Spiffy March 19, 2013 at 11:20 am

    back to basics? roads first? safety first? how about both? repave the street ONLY if other traffic calming and safety measures are also installed…

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  • Spiffy March 19, 2013 at 11:29 am

    if he wants to be serious about traffic safety then he needs to instruct his officers to start writing tickets for EVERY offense they see and not just the ones that they want to write tickets for… no more sitting on the side of the road waiting for speeders… pull over the person that is tailgating and didn’t signal well enough in advance… pull over the person with obstructed registration tags behind their custom license plate frame… pull over the person talking on their cell phone… pull over the person that doesn’t wait for an 11 car gap before merging onto the freeway (yes, you legally need that much room)…

    driving a vehicle these days isn’t possible without breaking the law and because of this people have decided that the laws don’t matter… everybody is breaking them so they’re obviously not important…

    make traffic laws important again…

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  • GlowBoy March 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    PPB has the typical big-city emphasis on catching “real criminals” over seemingly mundane traffic enforcement, combined with Oregon’s minimal-enforcement culture (our highways have about lowest highway patrol density of any state). PPB will go after obvious DUIs, but otherwise they don’t seem to do as much as they should to reduce the unconscionable number of vehicle homicides on our streets.

    Over the last few years I’m noticing a lot more vehicles swerving in (or out of) their lane, as mentioned above by Chris, often in broad daylight. All too often the culprit turns out to be a smartphone. In the most egregious example I followed a guy who was driving down SE Holgate while watching a lengthy video on his phone, but I see some sort of smartphone based distraction nearly every day now. Compared with the distractions of texting, watching videos or otherwise dealing with the screen of a smartphone, the dangers of eating, drinking, attending to personal hygiene and merely talking on a phone are miniscule.

    To their possible credit, Beaverton PD seems to be attempting to enforce the texting law, though anecdotally I hear that they’re mostly focusing on nailing drivers who are texting while stopped at the city’s interminable red lights, rather than those who are texting when it’s actually dangerous.

    In any event, we need a lot of additional enforcement, and that costs money. Money which won’t be forthcoming unless we can step up popular support for more enforcement. Unfortunately, Portland drivers (especially those not from the inner eastside) often seem more aggressive than in other cities where I’ve lived, and many people seem to regard speed enforcement as an infringement of their rights. Until that culture starts to change, we’ll be struggling to make much progress.

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    • Chris I March 20, 2013 at 6:32 am

      Exactly. I never see PPB enforcing traffic laws of any kind. I’ve seen them ignore red light runners, speeders, etc. They need to spend more time writing careless driving tickets, and less time beating up homeless people. Hales can direct them to alter priorities. He can do this right now. No funding required.

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  • A March 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve never understood by the total lack of willingness to address the vehicular holocaust, not even the outrage that it deserves, in this country. Convenience and laziness is not worth the dozens of thousands of lives of my fellow citizens annually. We go to war for so much less, why can’t we even begin the public conversation about this?

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    • Chris I March 20, 2013 at 6:35 am

      About 30,000 lives every year. It’s the leading cause of death for children and adults, but if you try to make it safer by slowing people down or assigning responsibility for the carnage, you are “destroying freedom”.

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  • Morgan March 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I am so burnt out on talking about laws and infrastructure changes. You can only get so far with legal changes; even though it is illegal to text and talk while driving we ALL see it every day…And sidewalks would be great but people are getting killed in marked crosswalks so clearly having them isn’t the only answer to preventing deaths.

    I think there has to be a larger attitude change (resulting in more peer pressure) about the entitlement to drive a car, drive it aggressively, and to value ones’ own time more than someone elses. Why do people feel that owning a car and driving it around makes them more important?

    It wears me out yelling at people on their phones, having people swearve around me when I stop for a pedestrian (both in the car and by bike), and feeling anxious every time I hear a car speeding up from behind me. Enough already!

    I hope Hales helps the city change its attitudes as well as its infrastructure and laws.

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  • gumby March 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I’m ready for google’s automatic pilot car. I really think we’ll see this in our lifetime. Removing human judgement and it’s inherent unreliablility is a sure way to significantly reduce fatalities.

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  • Adam March 19, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Riiiiight Charlie. And cutting the sidewalk budget is really the way to keep pedestrians safe on our roads. How about putting your money where your mouth is…

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