Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Comment of the Week: Raise the gas tax one penny per fatality

Posted by on March 25th, 2016 at 4:17 pm


How to get people’s attention?
(Photo: Blink Ofanaye)

Want to end traffic deaths? Try hitting people in the wallet.

That was the crazy-like-a-fox idea Pat Franz shared in a comment on Wednesday’s post about the known dangerous crossing of Cully Boulevard at Mason, where Patrick Curry died Saturday night as he tried to walk across the street.

Here’s Franz’s modest proposal:

How about we increase the gas tax by $0.01 for every vulnerable road user death? I know it sounds crass, a penny per life, but it would point out the incredible crassness of how we don’t pay for things, even when there is a clear need. The tax might eventually get so high that there could be effective social scorn for the killers, who knows?

Doesn’t sound at all crass to us — at least, not any crasser than a society that saw traffic fatalities jump 15 percent last year because gasoline got cheaper.

The fastest year-on-year increase in the country was Oregon’s.

Yes, we pay for good comments. This regular feature is sponsored by readers who’ve become BikePortland subscribers to keep our site and our community strong. We’ll be sending $5 and a little goodie bag to Pat in thanks for this great addition. Watch your email!

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • John Liu
    John Liu March 25, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    This treats all automobile drivers as a class, and proposes that everyone of that class be punished for the actions of anyone in that class.

    How about “for every terrorist act by a Muslim, all Muslims in America are punished.”

    That’s an odious proposal that certain politicians are making, and similarly this is an odious proposal for BP to publicize.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 25, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      Nothing says it would be limited to just drivers. The way I read it, it would apply to all fatal crashes — whether they were caused by someone driving, biking, or whatever.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu March 25, 2016 at 5:39 pm

        I think the concept of “vulnerable road user” is well understood to refer to a pedestrian or cyclist killed by a driver of a vehicle who is guilty of careless driving under ORS 811.135(3). In concept, “vehicle” could include bicycle, but I have never heard of a cyclist prosecuted under 811.135(3). Is the proposal that the next time a cyclist kills himself in a fatal solo crash, the gas tax should be raised 1c?

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        • soren March 26, 2016 at 1:31 pm

          The idea that a bicycle is a vehicle is nonsense. My bicycle is no more a vehicle than my skate board, roller blades (yes I still have them), or shoes.

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          • Jason 2 March 26, 2016 at 11:34 pm

            Exactly right. A bicycle has a lot more in common with a pedestrian than it does with a car.

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            • dan March 27, 2016 at 7:40 pm

              I would never take the lane as a pedestrian, but I’m comfortable doing it on a bike. Just sayin’

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              • Matt S. March 28, 2016 at 9:02 am

                Interesting rebuttal.

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    • Beeblebrox March 25, 2016 at 5:13 pm

      It’s actually more like insurance. Everyone pays a little bit, and that ensures there is enough money to respond to catastrophic events.

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    • Alex Reedin March 25, 2016 at 5:18 pm

      And let’s not forget – people who don’t drive pay gas tax too, indirectly. When the gas tax goes up, ultimately prices at all stores go up a little because it increases the cost of trucking.

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      • was carless March 27, 2016 at 4:29 pm

        Here’s a thought: raise the gasoline tax, not the “USE FUEL” (aka diesel tax). Problem solved!

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        • Opus the Poet March 29, 2016 at 12:42 am

          Then everyone would drive diesel cars to escape the tax, plus semis tear up the roads hundreds of times worse than cars, so trucks need to be taxed on their destructiveness. That’s one of the big reasons we got long haul freight moved from rails to trucks, the railroads are privately owned and maintained while trucks are heavily subsidized.

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    • 9watts March 25, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      “proposes that everyone of that class be punished for the actions of anyone in that class.”

      I don’t see it that way at all. Where do you get the idea that a gas tax is a punishment? It is (or could be) our ticket out of this crazy good-for-nothing mess we’re in where the potential alternatives to the car have been starved for generations *and* climate change has us on the hook to leave the fossil fuels in the ground. The punishment is doing nothing, continuing to sit on our a$$es.

      I too think Pat’s idea is brilliant!

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    • wsbob March 26, 2016 at 1:55 am

      This week’s comment of the week: “How about we increase the gas tax by $0.01 for every vulnerable road user death? …’ is of amazingly bad taste and judgment. It’s not even very funny as a joke, though some people do enjoy sick humor.

      Should any serious, responsible minded person really want to have the gas tax correlate directly to the deaths of anyone, vulnerable road user, or not? If you want to make people hate you, gas tax increases by this means might a sure way to do it.

      Bad drivers responsible for killing vulnerable road users, likely aren’t going to be upset that their bad behavior directly increased the gas tax. Some of them might even enjoy the effect this idea as law would allow them to have. I suppose the idea carried further, would be to use the sordidly gained revenues to somehow have the roads and streets become safer for use by vulnerable road users, i.e. people on foot and with bikes, skateboards, etc.

      That kind of association has its drawbacks. Better to work harder towards making a strong case for roads to be safer for people not using them with motor vehicles. Without having people’s deaths become a condition for raising the money to do it.

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      • 9watts March 26, 2016 at 2:59 pm

        “Bad drivers responsible for killing vulnerable road users, likely aren’t going to be upset that their bad behavior directly increased the gas tax. ”

        That is kind of a parochial way to look at Pat’s proposal. I didn’t take his idea as motivated to shame the individual but rather as a collective motivator to render visible, focus more attention on—and find ways to reduce the probability of—this sort of thing. We might agree that at the present death-by-automobile is treated rather casually by our society in general. We do almost nothing meaningful to address the problem. But if you monetized the issue in the manner suggested, I think you’d be surprised how quickly people took notice, started thinking of ways to solve this, since continuing to ignore the problem was now directly linked to something symbolically perceived as significant: how much I’m paying to put dead dinosaurs in my car’s tank.

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    • A.H. March 26, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      Nice strawman, chump.

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    • Dave March 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      I agree with you–and very much agree with the tax for that reason! The behavior of such a large number of drivers–phoning, speeding, agressive driving–is such that they/we all deserve to be treated as guilty before proven innocent in the eyes of the law. American drivers have behaved so badly especially since the availability of cellular telephones, that they deserve the discrimination and the deprivation of rights. We are talking about chosen behavior that kills something like 28,000 people per year prematurely. Any American bicyclist who views drivers as human beings deserving of equal treatment before the law is but a naive child.

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    • Jason 2 March 26, 2016 at 11:32 pm

      Fact is, no politician is proposing the punishment of all Muslims that you refer to. Please don’t make stuff up out of thin air.

      However, I do agree with you that the proposed “comment of the week” is ridiculous. I’d vote this proposal to raise the gas tax one penny per fatality to be the ludicrous comment of the week.

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      • Dave March 28, 2016 at 8:32 am

        I guess it is ridiculous–a ridiculously small amount of $ per fatality, that is.

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        • Dan A March 28, 2016 at 8:51 am

          If it’s a state tax, it raise $4 a gallon by the end of the year.

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    • bdlandoe March 28, 2016 at 10:00 am

      There is an enormous difference between a protected, immutable quality (like religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc.) and an activity, like driving, that comes with negative externalities. Taxing those externalities is in no way akin to profiling.

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  • SK March 25, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    A penny for your deaths.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly March 25, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    I think it’s brilliant. Set aside 1/4 for safety improvements, 1/4 for road maintenance, 1/4 for prosecutors, and 1/4 for victims & families.

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  • B. Carfree March 25, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    I would prefer to limit the increase to those deaths that are caused by motorists breaking the law (100%) and dedicate the funds primarily to traffic law enforcement. That’s more targeted at the problem (the dangerous habits that motorists develop in the absence of enforcement) and won’t be seen as benefiting one class of user over any others.

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  • Jim March 25, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    And what tax is levied on cyclists, who cause injury (don’t argue, we all know it happens), or do something unpredictable, illegal in traffic causing drivers or pedestrians to swerve and/or have an accident? Maybe special taxes on all cycle related products?

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    • 9watts March 25, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      Someone always pulls this one. But it’s just silly.
      The problem as we all know is the 33,000 killed-by-people-poorly-piloting-cars, not the 1.25(?) killed by people riding bikes/yr. I suspect that forks or umbrellas or bathtubs kill more people than bikes every year. Why the attempted equivalence?

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      • Dan A March 25, 2016 at 9:02 pm

        That NPR story says 2015 had an estimated 38,300 deaths.

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        • Rob Chapman March 25, 2016 at 10:36 pm

          ^??!!!!! That’s unacceptable.

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          • Dan A March 27, 2016 at 8:13 am

            And that’s to say nothing of the 4.4 MILLION who were seriously injured.

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          • bendite March 27, 2016 at 12:13 pm

            Pre-recession, it was around 45,000 deaths a year. Don’t worry about it though, ISIS is much more scary and deserving of our energy.

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      • gutterbunnybikes March 25, 2016 at 9:51 pm

        There is somewhere between 3-5 deaths in an average year in US casued by bicycle riders hitting pedistrians (I had the actual numbers on my last computer – can seem to find where I stashed those stats on this one). About the same number of auto users are killed in collisions with bicycles (though there is no real information on whose fault the collision is on these bicycle vs. car stats).

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        • 9watts March 26, 2016 at 7:30 am

          Well, there you go – a ratio of 10,000:1.
          How much time and energy should we devote to each of the two sides of that ratio?

          What I love most about Pat’s suggestion is the feedback it provides, the dynamic quality of this sort of arrangement. We have altogether too few feedback mechanisms woven into our economic and political life. The attention to deaths-by-automobile—and the public pressure to reduce them—would build quickly and become immense were we to index these to the cost of gasoline at the pump. Can you imagine?
          I vote Pat for honorary advisor to the Commissioner who’ll be in charge of Transportation this next round, or better yet give him half of Leah Treat’s immense salary. Maybe he’ll come up with more of these gems.

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        • soren March 26, 2016 at 1:33 pm

          And pedestrians also kill other pedestrians (and even bicycle riders) very infrequently.

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          • Dan A March 28, 2016 at 8:52 am

            Pedestrians with guns are almost as dangerous as cars.

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      • meh March 28, 2016 at 7:05 am

        You make it sound like there are 33K vulnerable users killed. But that is not the case. The majority of those killed are the drivers of the vehicles. But it’s always a nice statistic to bandy about without context in these arguments.

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        • 9watts March 28, 2016 at 7:29 am

          I think everyone knows what the 3x,000 figure refers to, meh. But if you really want to put a fine point on it, you could argue that those people inside metal boxes with wheels turned out to be more vulnerable than they perhaps expected. Maybe we’re all vulnerable road users?

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        • Opus the Poet March 29, 2016 at 12:49 am

          Of the 33k killed in 2013, 4500 were pedestrians and 730 were cyclists, so the national gas tax would have been $5.23 a gallon in 2014 using this formula instead of $0.18.

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        • Pete March 29, 2016 at 1:12 pm

          One problem is the number of cyclist collisions that aren’t reported. Yes, deaths tend to be, but injuries are impossible to track.

          I was at a PTA meeting a few weeks ago where the mayor and police chief reported on their “ride-a-long” experience after a high school student asked them to accompany him by bicycle to school one morning to see what it’s like. They were shocked! What was shocking to me, though, were the number of parents who had recently learned (in light of this publicity) that their children had been hit by cars on multiple commutes through the years and never told anybody. It was only when the PTA asked the parents to ask their children about their biking and walking experiences that it actually came up.

          Incidentally, the most popular request from these parents at this meeting? More green paint on the bike lanes at intersections.

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    • Eric Leifsdad March 25, 2016 at 11:24 pm

      cyclists…do something unpredictable, illegal in traffic causing drivers or pedestrians to swerve and/or have an accident?

      I’m not a cyclist, but I sometimes have to scream “hey!” when a driver starts to illegally cut in front of my bike in traffic. It is rather predictable and just as legal as honking. I guess it might cause those who were staring at their phone to have an “accident” in their pants. Is that what your proposed bike tax is about?

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      • bendite March 27, 2016 at 12:06 pm

        You’re not a cyclist but you ride a bike?

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        • soren March 28, 2016 at 12:27 pm

          are you a shoeist because you use shoes to walk?

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  • 9watts March 26, 2016 at 7:38 am

    or do something unpredictable, illegal in traffic causing drivers or pedestrians to swerve and/or have an accident?
    Recommended 1

    This is such a tiresome bit of conjecture. I love how we can’t actually point to this having happened (though I suppose it has, somewhere) but we instead invent this trope of the domino-effect-of-the-scofflaw-cyclist-in-traffic to distract from the actual everyday problem of people in cars quite unprompted crashing into just about anything you’d care to imagine: houses, people, trees, bridges, malls, health food stores, bogs, dogs, children, grandmothers, wildlife, leaving no end of death and destruction in their wake.

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    • Pete March 29, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      Ooh, especially if you let bicyclists take a left turn at a red light that doesn’t change, or treat a stop sign as a yield. The carnage would be unfathomable!

      Cats and dogs, living together…

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    • Pete March 29, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Think of the children, er, storefronts…


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  • SE March 26, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    so for every 100 gallons that you buy, another dollar out of your pocket ?

    is that some kind of joke ?

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    • 9watts March 26, 2016 at 7:09 pm

      Based on the outrage about gas taxes more generally it seems that a lot of folks don’t think the *rate* contemplated here is particularly jokey.

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    • Jason 2 March 26, 2016 at 11:39 pm

      The problem is that it would not be long at all before you were paying an extra dollar for EACH GALLON of fuel purchased just for the tax in this ridiculous “comment of the week”, and not long after that it would be an extra $2, $3, etc.

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      • 9watts March 27, 2016 at 4:30 pm

        Ooooooh. Scary!
        And even then we wouldn’t be nearly caught up with, say, Norway, where the tax on gasoline translates to about $3.87/gal, for a retail price of $10.76 per gallon.

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      • Dave March 28, 2016 at 11:15 am

        So? We are very spoiled in this country by our tiny little gas tax level. Our gas tax is a Yorkie–we need for it to be a Great Dane!

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    • Dave March 28, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      Yes, and it’s a brilliant idea. NO joke!

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  • Pat Franz March 27, 2016 at 12:38 am

    The “class punishment” argument is an interesting distraction, and presented as it was, dishonest.

    The difference is this: there is nothing inherent in being a Muslim that is dangerous to others. There is, however, inherent danger to others by being a driver. It is inescapable. By being a driver, you endanger others. An important part of that endangerment comes from inadequate infrastructure. Infrastructure that the act of driving does not fully pay for, leaving it inadequate to protect others from your choice to drive.

    Yes, how careful or not careful a driver you are usually has a big effect on how much you endanger others. And yes, we need more effective measures directed at that difference. But as pissy as my original comment was, the fact remains that the choice to drive endangers others who did not volunteer to be endangered- and part of the reason why is that as drivers, we don’t pay for the cost of driving. As drivers, we don’t pay the cost to provide roads, we don’t pay the environmental costs, and we don’t pay the many costs of endangering others.

    It is true we as a society derive a lot of benefits from driving, but the costs and benefits are not fairly distributed and in fact have gotten quite out of whack. Right now, by choosing to drive, you are choosing to accept a smorgasbord of subsidies, including the right to significantly endanger others. By choosing not to drive, you are choosing possibly significant endangerment for yourself along with comparative crumbs of a subsidy.

    Taxing fuels is not a perfect way to correct things, and it’s not the fix for everything, but it is basically fair, very simple, and bears directly on the infrastructure part of the problem. The very real problems of careless driving, drunk driving, distracted driving, etc. etc. are certainly more difficult to solve, but I would say reminding drivers of the danger they pose, and the costs, is an important step in making change.

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    • Dave March 28, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      In the case of motor vehicle drivers, I don’t shy from calling it class punishment and think it happens to be an excellent idea.

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    • Jason 2 March 28, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      Taxing gas is done and is mostly accepted. However the proposed tax would soon cause gas to be unaffordable.
      Your understanding on other matters that you brought up is flawed:

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      • Dan A March 29, 2016 at 6:54 am

        Nope, people would just use less.

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  • Skid March 27, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    How about we prosecute vulnerable road user deaths? Punish the person who is actually responsible for the death.

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    • 9watts March 27, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      I see Pat’s suggestion as a(an admittedly novel) way of making this more likely, of drawing attention to the present lack of attention this subject receives in our society.

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    • are March 28, 2016 at 9:09 am

      i really think we need to focus on reducing the carnage rather than revenging ourselves on people who screwed up

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      • Dan A March 29, 2016 at 6:55 am

        Penalizing the guilty is a way to help reduce the carnage.

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  • bikeninja March 28, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I think we should take a fairer approach and put cameras in all travel corridors where cyclest and pedestrians are at risk . Then have a volunteer staffed center where the cameras can be monitored and safety violations tallied, just like counting salmon. Things like speeding, running red lights, failure to yield to a pedestrian could be added up and for every 1000 or so violations the gas tax could be raised by $.001. Because no individual citations are given the messy and expensive business of determing driver id, and court hearings are removed. Maybe then drivers would pressure their scofflaw friends to fall in line and behave in a safe manor so gas taxes don’t rise to the moon. Either way the outcome is good.

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  • Jason 2 March 28, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Bottom line to the whole thing is to remember that we are supposed to share the road. This implies certain responsibility on the part of all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians. Most of the time when a vulnerable road user is hit the blame can be shared by both the driver and the cyclist. We must all do our part or else little will be accomplished toward reducing accidents.

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    • 9watts March 28, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      “Most of the time when a vulnerable road user is hit the blame can be shared by both the driver and the cyclist.”

      When this question has been studied, the matter of fault most of the time isn’t nearly as evenly distributed as you suggest.

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      • Opus the Poet March 29, 2016 at 12:56 am

        There was a Quebec study that put cyclists at fault 70% of the time from the physical evidence of fatal wrecks, while an Aussie study done with video cameras put it at 87% for all wrecks, not just the fatal ones studied in the Quebec research.

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        • 9watts March 29, 2016 at 1:18 pm

          my recollection from those studies was actually the exact opposite. That upwards of 70% of the time the driver was found to have been at fault. They (the studies I’m thinking of) were discussed in a Monday Roundup here some years back.

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    • Pete March 29, 2016 at 1:15 pm

      Some of us who have seen the “data” remain skeptical.


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  • Dan A March 29, 2016 at 7:03 am


    This article cites studies where the cyclist was said to be at fault 44%, 49% or 16% of the time.

    Personally, I’d take these ‘studies’ with a big dose of salt. Who is assigning fault in each of these cases? The NYPD just assigned fault to a pedestrian that a police officer ran over in the crosswalk.

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  • Opus the Poet March 29, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Wrong species, we need it to be a brontosaurus.

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    • Opus the Poet March 29, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      That was supposed to be a reply to Dave’s Yorkie comment.

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  • Opus the Poet March 30, 2016 at 12:05 am

    OK I looked up the data for OR in FARS and the gas tax would have been $0.64/gallon this year for y’all. Texas drivers would be coughing up $5.26/gallon in tax, while the federal tax would be $52.80/gallon. I think we could get some reduction in vulnerable road users dying with that kind of tax.

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