Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Oregon State Police blames vulnerable victims while driving deaths spin out of control

Posted by on November 4th, 2016 at 4:44 pm

Don't pay attention to this, but please make sure you wear hi-viz clothing next time you take the dog for walk.(Photos: Oregon State Police)

Just some of the Oregon driving carnage of the past two weeks.
(Photos: Oregon State Police)

This is an editorial.

The Oregon State Police issued a relatively rare safety message to the media today. In light of three collisions in the past nine days that resulted in the death of someone trying to walk or roll across a state highway, they included the following message in a press statement (emphasis theirs):

***This is the third fatal crash involving pedestrians that OSP has investigated in the past week***

OSP urges pedestrians and bicyclists to wear bright colors, have reflective material and use extra caution when there is limited visibility due to hours of darkness or inclement weather. Also be knowledgeable of the laws pertaining to biking or traveling near and on highways. Please visit the Oregon Department of Transportation’s pedestrian safety [web] page for further information on pedestrian safety.

(Note: In at least two of the three collisions, the stretch of highway was not well lit and didn’t have any place to cross.)

The message was picked up by The Oregonian a few minutes ago with the headline, “State police urge pedestrians to be careful on highways.” The lead paragraph states, “Three people have died within eight days after crossing in front of moving cars on state highways, the Oregon State Police said Friday afternoon.”

The way that reads, it’s as if these people willfully put themselves in harm’s way and were asking for it.

While I appreciate the OSP’s concern for safety — their focus on “pedestrians and bicyclists” in this context is misplaced and troubling. They are blaming victims in collisions where we’ll never know what truly happened (because we can’t ask the person who was hit). That being said, this isn’t about blame. The State Police play a huge role in our transportation culture and we need them to set a great example for other agencies, the media, and all Oregonians. Dividing road users into unhelpful labels like “pedestrians and bicyclists” — especially in the context of blaming victims — is simply not in line with best practices and it needs to stop.

Advertisement

What’s also troubling is how the OSP treats these deaths to people outside of motorized vehicles so much differently than fatal crashes that involve only people driving cars.

While OSP felt the need to issue a special message about “pedestrians and bicyclists” safety because of three fatalities in nine days — they issued no such blame or special notice when seven people died and two were seriously injured in five separate collisions in the five days between October 21st and the 25th. That doesn’t include a 10-year-old girl who died Tuesday when the car she was in “drifted off” Highway 78, rolled several times, and ejected her from her seat.

Look at these headlines from the Oregon State Police in just the past two weeks:

  • OSP Continuing Fatal Crash Investigation of a Child Passenger on Highway 78 – Malheur County (Photo) – 11/03/16
  • Two Killed In Collision On I-84 Near Boardman – Morrow County – 10/25/16
  • Three Killed In Highway 211 Crash North Of Molalla – Clackamas County (Photo) – 10/23/16
  • New Mexico Man Killed In Crash On Highway 26 Near Madras (Jefferson County) (Photo) – 10/23/16
  • California Couple Seriously Injured In Friday Morning Crash Near Sisters – Deschutes County (Photo) – 10/23/16
  • Coburg Man Killed In Crash On Interstate 5 – Lane County – 10/21/16

That sounds like a huge crisis! Where is the special safety message from the OSP imploring people to use more caution while driving, slow down, and be extra careful?

The OSP is going out of their way to blame our most vulnerable road users while ignoring driving deaths. This not only shifts the agency’s safety resources and policy attention away from where it should be, but it results in an unnecessary fear of walking and biking and a corresponding lack of fear about the dangers of driving. This is the opposite of what we should be doing to get more people to walk and bike and fewer people to use cars.

OSP’s messaging needs to improve if the State of Oregon is going to reach their stated goal of zero deaths by 2035.

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

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

123
Leave a Reply

avatar
31 Comment threads
92 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
43 Comment authors
El BiciclerowsbobshawnBikeEverywhereq Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Don’t be a victim. Carry a 4000lb hammer.

Wade
Guest
Wade

Thank you for writing this.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

When humans found petroleum and invented the motorcar they were presented with a Faustian bargain. They had the choice of convenience vs sanity and a long future on the planet for thier children . They choose to make a deal with the devil and it appears we will not be able to entangle ourselves before we are destroyed.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

VZ in Sweden was intended to protect motorists from each other.

Andrew N
Guest
Andrew N

Maus for City Council! (Seriously.)

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I’m not surprised at OSP’s anti-bike/ped views. A couple of years ago I was being harassed by a trooper on a road with one nine-foot lane in each direction and obstructed sight lines. When we pulled over to the side of the road at a patch of gravel, I listened to him, understood that this young officer was just repeating what he had been told in his training, and then unloaded on him by quoting several items from the vehicle code by the numbers. To his credit, he retrieved his copy of the vehicle code, confirmed that I had told him true, and apologized.

Oddly, even after I explained to him the reasons why it is much safer to take the lane on such narrow lanes, he still believed that it would be safer for me to hug the edge. I guess it’s tough to undue months of indoctrination.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

If we can get Chloe in, then JM…

A reminder:

The original Council presentation for VZ was cancelled because of the protests at City Hall. It’s been rescheduled for December 1st, Thursday in the afternoon.

I am counting on BP (and others) to cover it well…because I’ll be on…Maui.

Andy
Guest
Andy

This will only change when it becomes a political issue that matters. There isn’t a single politician in Oregon whose prospects are affected by this OSP attitude. Even in Portland, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick is headed for reelection and the only time he has talked about this issue during the campaign is to say that it is often safer for pedestrians if the City doesn’t mark crosswalks.

It’s the same with ODOT. When I first got involved with advocacy, I was told by the Assistant City Manager where I lived that “ODOT only cares about ton-miles and throughput.” I did not believe her and was astonished when she was proved right. There is no reason for them to care about anything else. Look at it as rational cost/benefit calculation based on self-interest.

If cyclists want this to change, they will have to get organized and active. Otherwise, look forward to more of the same.

Gerald Fittipaldi
Guest
Gerald Fittipaldi

This is a very well thought out editorial. I would love to hear a response from someone who doesn’t think that OSP is engaging in blatant victim blaming.

Kristi Finney
Subscriber
Kristi Finney

Are police doing thorough investigations in these deadly or injurious instances? (Rhetorical). What is the status of the driver’s headlights, for example? “Man walking killed: driver had cloudy headlights.” “Woman on bike struck on rural highway: driver did not have headlights on bright.” I just thought of this because poor headlight illumination was featured on 20/20 last week. http://abcnews.go.com/US/report-raises-concerns-effectiveness-car-headlights/story?id=38018199

Angel
Guest
Angel

Fantastic editorial.

q
Guest
q

Although it’s victim blaming, it also isn’t respectful to drivers, because it takes the position that drivers are incapable of doing anything to reduce their likelihood of killing somebody. It’s telling drivers that they’re screwed if they have the misfortune to encounter a pedestrian or cyclist that hasn’t taken all these special safety measures.

Or, maybe they just think all drivers already do everything possible to prevent collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.

Jackson Flanders
Guest
Jackson Flanders

Is it victim blaming when the (local) police warn residents to avoid car break-ins by keeping their car “showroom clean”? Is it victim blaming when the NPS warns visitors to keep clear of bears (and other animals) for their own safety? Is it victim blaming to warn people that crossing certain streets can be dangerous, and that they should take extra caution when doing so? Is it victim blaming when the police suggest replacing your cable lock with something more robust so that your bike doesn’t get stolen?

If you think the OSP should be doing something specific (and that is realistically within their power) to address these issues, please post it, and let’s present some proposals. Just complaining about “victim blaming” when there may not be much the police can do other than warn people to be careful does not help build a case for forward movement.

That’s the best response I can muster.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Fault is a useless concept when people get killed/hurt. Right or wrong, the laws of physics trump everything else.

The only way to survive is to ride/walk/whatever like everyone is trying to kill you but not take it personally. Stepping in front or passing on the right of turning vehicles assumes drivers will do what they should.

No one has as great an interest in your own safety as you, and if you refuse to own that, it’s not going to work out well.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Be careful. It’s dangerous out there. And as America becomes more unhinged it’s gonna get dangerouser.

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

Bravo Johnathan.
I think it is also worth pointing out that their “suggestions” are made out of sincere concern but are nevertheless misguided.

Dave
Guest
Dave

OSP is run by our do-nothing governor. I’m not a Bud Pierce fan but we really need a more hands on governor than Kate Brown. She’s a caretaker governor who has no agenda that I can find.

Robert Burchett
Guest
Robert Burchett

Somebody put the OSP action on the governor’s desk. We all know where the buck stops, but Kate Brown didn’t invent the culture of the OSP. At a reasonable guess, patrol officers drive 50,000 miles a year. Their lives are shaped by time they spend in a car.

I rarely leave my house without getting on a bike. If I even walk someplace it’s an adventure. And yet, on the rare occasions that I drive a car it’s easy to fall into driver mode. The point of view, the lack of visibility, the isolation from the environment, and the expectation of speed all shape the experience.

Cars are seductive and driving cars gets in your head. Our police officers, from whatever agency, spend a lot of time in cars before, during, and after their other official activities. It’s no surprise that this attitude shows up.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…The message was picked up by The Oregonian a few minutes ago with the headline, “State police urge pedestrians to be careful on highways.” The lead paragraph states, “Three people have died within eight days after crossing in front of moving cars on state highways, the Oregon State Police said Friday afternoon.”

The way that reads, it’s as if these people willfully put themselves in harm’s way and were asking for it. …” maus/bikeportland editorial

Say…’To me, the way that reads…’, and the summation would be reasonable. The headline is likely not going to, so to speak, ‘read’ the same for everyone reading it.

For me, the lead paragraph of the Oregonian story, does not read as though the writer Tony Hermandez, is implying in any way, that people as vulnerable road users, injured or killed in collisions with motor vehicles, to use your words: “…willfully put themselves in harm’s way and were asking for it.”. He appears simply to be making a statement that by nature of the subject it addresses…the deaths of people having attempted to cross a road…is alarming.

Most of the rest of his story, consists of his reporting personal details about the persons involved, details about the collisions, and about citations, and so forth. It’s just straight reporting…there isn’t any editorializing, implications or insinuations made in that story.

The OSP message included in the Oregonian story, is just the last paragraph of that 10 paragraph story.

The language of that OSP message does not appear to me to offer any indication that police from that agency are blaming vulnerable road users for their deaths, as the headline from this bikeportland editorial claims they do.

To me, and I would believe, likely many more people in the state, the message would read as simply a plea to people out walking and biking, to take care to be prepared for the low visibility conditions they may encounter: No blame implied, or intended.

emerson
Subscriber

Nice job on highlighting how the OSP’s rhetoric influences perception and discussion of roadway safety.

Tony Rebensdorf
Guest
Tony Rebensdorf

Well stated. All you have to do is wear a helmet and high-vis; and you won’t get raped by a car!

Mossby Pomegranate
Guest
Mossby Pomegranate

The only crisis here is that nobody wants to assume personal responsibility for their safety.

Spiffy
Subscriber

one VERY important piece of blatant misinformation:

“Troopers, in all three cases, determined the drivers were operating their vehicles lawfully”

most likely all three people were speeding… hard to determine if there’s enough time to cross the highway when everybody exceeds the speed limit on them…

why do we make the assumption that no laws were broken? it seems like the police are just covering up for drivers all the time… all. the. time.

bradwagon
Guest
bradwagon

Saw a new Toyato Commercial that, in this same vein, shows people singing and dancing while driving and a lane detection system warns them they are veering into oncoming traffic. Essentially “you don’t have to pay attention while you drive, the car will do that for you!”. It seems that OSP is treating cars like they have a mind of their own as well and it’s just bad luck that the Car Gods decided these drivers were going to be in a fatal accident. I hate the flippancy with which we treat driving.

Russ
Guest
Russ

I hear a lot of criticism about wearing hi-viz clothing on this site, and out on the road, because it’s either uncool, or incites victim-blaming. “Why should I have to wear bright colored clothing? The drivers should be looking out for me!”. “It’s pretty dorky to show up to my destination in such a bright jacket”.

Come on people! Put on bright colors. Turn on your tail light. Use hand signals. It’s your life, quite trying to put the onus on drivers. Protect yourselves!!
Yes, I’m a cyclist.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Dozens of great comments hear. How many were sent to to OSP, elected officials and various agencies? If OSP got half as many E-mails as comments posted here, we may start to see some change.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I haven’t analyzed all the comments, but I see a few things that many of them have in common:

* OSP is “anti-bike/ped”
* Messages don’t do any good, so it doesn’t matter who they’re aimed at.
* Many bicyclists are “anti-visibility”, or don’t take their own safety seriously.

I would be careful about labeling agencies like OSP as “anti-bike”. What I often perceive is that some agencies tend to treat pedestrians—and especially bicyclists—as children. The attitude isn’t so much “anti” as it seems to be parental. “Now look, young man—I want you wearing that reflective clothing or the bike goes away!”, as my dad might have said (though he never actually did). I imagine, probably unfairly, that when police agencies get a call about a traffic incident involving a bike, they might roll their eyes and immediately start thinking of all the things the silly bicyclist might have done to get themselves run over, while not imagining any motorist involved could have done anything to avoid it. The results of an attitude like this do indeed have anti-bike outcomes, but until we treat the “disease” of assumptions that drivers are rational adults (with important places to be, NOW!) and bicyclists are petulant children (who are just “playing” on the road), things will probably remain as they are.

Messages may indeed not do much good, but they do reveal the attitude of the messenger. As I theorize in the previous paragraph, the nature of messages and the target audience reveal who the message-maker believes to be in need of “shaping up” and being more diligent in their responsibilities. When the non-motorized get scolded (or “reminded”) for not doing enough “for safety”, it tacitly lets the motorized know that law enforcement has their back. I mean, what driver today can possibly be expected to see a bicyclist on a rainy night unless the bicyclist is lit up “like a christmas tree”, right? Don’t worry, motorists, we understand it’s hard—that’s why we’re telling “them”—once again [eyeroll]—to use some common sense and stay off the road; or at least wear reflective clothing and use bright lights. It would be a much different message if it were aimed at getting drivers to slow down, scan the edges of your path, look for silhouettes against other lights, keep your windshield clean, look in the direction you are about to move—even when making a right turn—etc. The current form of messaging sends the unspoken message that when it comes to safety, it’s all on the non-motorized to protect themselves; there is nothing more motorists need worry about.

On the third point, I’ve already responded to another comment, but anyone who believes that bicyclists are trying to foolishly frolic about in the street while purposely trying to be as invisible as possible, probably has it wrong. It isn’t about what might be prudent for bicyclists to do, it is about what we believe lets motorists off the hook for not being as prudent as they should be when driving.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Too bad OSP / PPB does not issue similar safety statements [notifying all drivers of the risk that chronic bad drivers present] every time they pull over drivers for missing [basic] safety equipment and missing insurance etc:

Like in the case of Mr. Schrantz, KGW reported:

Schrantz’s history of driving infractions also includes:
– eight convictions for driving without insurance,
– two for speeding,
– two for operating without the required lighting equipment,
– two for failing to signal on a turn or stop,
– one for unauthorized use of a vehicle,
– one for failure to renew auto registration,
– one for failure to obey a traffic control device,
– one for operation without a rearview mirror, and
– one for failure to drive within a lane.”

Just sayin’ – these bad drivers create unsafe streets for ALL roadway users…the majority of whom are other drivers AND their passengers…

rick
Guest
rick

insane. It needs to become very difficult to obtain and keep a driver’s license.

q
Guest
q

One thing I think nobody’s mentioned after all these comments…of all times of the 24-hour day that the cyclist could have gone out–assuming he sleeps at night–he may have chosen early morning as the safest time. Although it’s dark, traffic would likely be lighter than at any other time, except maybe late evening. And late evening brings drivers who’ve been drinking, plus it’s just as dark at 7 pm as it is in early AM. It’s not unreasonable that someone would choose darkness over traffic, especially on a narrow road.

So while the typical driver or sheriff may view cycling in darkness as yet more proof that the victim was acting unsafely, it could be evidence of the opposite.

BikeEverywhere
Guest
BikeEverywhere

While I agree that the responsibility for those accidents falls on the drivers, I have to say that in the last two weeks I have been surprised by both a pedestrian and cyclist after dark who were each wearing dark clothing and darting out in front of cars and other cyclists (me). The cyclist had no lights. There’s just no excuse for making it nearly impossible for cars to see you.