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‘Negligence gap’ bill passes committee 4-1, now heads for Senate vote

Posted by on February 10th, 2016 at 1:37 pm

prozanski

Senator Floyd Prozanski ferried
the bill through committee.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 to pass a bill that would revise existing law and create a new crime for negligent motor vehicle operators.

As we reported yesterday, Senate Bill 1553 would add one sentence to the list of behaviors that could result in someone charged with violating ORS 163.165. The sentence reads, “[A person commits the crime of assault in the third degree if the person:] With criminal negligence causes serious physical injury to another who is a vulnerable user of a public way by means of a motor vehicle.”

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office is pushing for this new law out of frustration over cases where someone causes serious physical injury due to their negligent driving and is able to walk away with only a traffic ticket. The new crime would come with a felony charge punishable by a maximum of 11 months in jail for the most egregious cases. The DA’s office say they anticipate most of the cases will result in probation and a restitution payment plan to the victim overseen by a parole officer. In total the law is estimated to be triggered in about 15-16 annual cases statewide.

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At this morning’s committee work session there was a brief discussion from Republican Senator Kim Thatcher. Thatcher worries the new law will capture too many people undeserving of the charge. Yesterday she expressed sympathy for people who might collide with a vulnerable road user on accident. “I understand the motivation to want to nail a person to the wall,” she said, “but I also have concerns the other way.” Today she said “I still strenuously object to creating a felony and I’m not going to be supporting this.” Thatcher is also not happy that this traffic-related issue has been stuffed into a larger omnibus bill that deals with something completely unrelated (extending the statute of limitations for sex crimes).

Committee Chair Floyd Prozanski (a bicycle rider himself who passed Oregon’s safe passing law after his friend was killed on a ride) strongly supports the bill. He said the bill has “safeguards” built in to make sure it’s only triggered when specific conditions are met. Those conditions include serious physical injury to a vulnerable road user and a criminally negligent mental state by the person behind the wheel.

Now the bill will head to the Senate floor for a vote. Jeff Rhoades, a legislative liaison with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, tells us the vote is likely to take place around the middle of next week. Once it passes a full Senate vote (which is likely given its strong support in committee) it’ll head to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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shuppatsu
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shuppatsu

I sure hope this fails. Putting somebody in jail and giving them a felony record for negligence? Absurd and alarming.

bikeninja
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bikeninja

I have always found it amazing that an outcome that would result from any other activity besides driving would have these same penalties. For instance, if one was to walk around a shopping mall swinging a sword and you accidently cut off someone’s arm you would definetly go to jail, or if you were shooting a gun in the park and hit someone you would be criminaly charged but somehow (perhaps the backing of a powerful industry?) one can cause mayhem and destruction with a motor vehicle and pass it off as an accident. It is about time the laws for negligent use of a motor vehicle were the same as for the negligent use of any other dangerous technology.

Todd Hudson
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Todd Hudson

It sounds like the “fiscal impact” checkbox on the bill analyses (done by relevant agencies like DOJ or county DAs) will either be not checked, or acknowledged as negligible. That is promising in terms of bill passage.

bikeninja
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bikeninja

Compared to other dangerous activities the threshold of negligence for which someone is held accountable when driving a motor vehicle is unreasonably high. Being distracted or inattentive is not an excuse if a pilot crashes a plane in to a school. Perhaps at one time , the consequences of a farmer crashing his model T on a dirt road while daydreaming were not great but in todays urban environment the consequences are serious and it is only resonable that we adapt the laws to fit the circumstances

Randall S.
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Randall S.

I look forward to this law being passed and then never, ever, ever enforced.

q`Tzal
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q`Tzal

If you find yourself being angry about this possibly becoming law, worried about about how easily you could end up in jail for just a “tiny accident”….
YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

You SHOULD BE terrified every mile you drive that you may be held responsible for harm YOU CAUSED with your bad driving habits.

If you don’t want to be responsible for your actions DON’T DRIVE.

Emily Guise (Contributor)
Subscriber

I’m so glad this bill’s chances of passing are looking good, because this is a gap in the law that absolutely needs to be filled. Many thanks to the DA and deputy DAs for initiating this bill, and Senator Prozanski for championing it! I will definitely be writing some supportive letters.