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

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.


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:

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 –

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