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Guest Post: How Oregon got Idaho Stop

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

… Or just yield. Whatever is safest.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Ray Thomas is a partner at Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost*.

Bjorn Warloe was living in Corvallis in 2003 and remembers reading a story in the Oregon State University student newspaper that Oregon had passed an “Idaho Stop” law which allows a bicycle user to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. It turned out the article was wrong (it had passed the House but had failed to even get a hearing in the Senate) though it did accurately identify Eugene Senator Floyd Prozanski as the legislation’s chief proponent.

Idaho Stop had failed, but the idea to correlate stop sign law with natural and safe riding behavior stuck with Bjorn. And 13 years later he would still be around to see a stops-as-yields law finally pass the Oregon legislature.

Here’s how it happened…

2007 Portland Police Bureau photo of a stop sign enforcement action at Ladd’s Circle.

Four years after Bjorn first read that article, when he was living in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood of Portland, he became frustrated that Portland police were citing bicycle users for stop sign violations on quiet neighborhood streets. It seemed like a huge misallocation of scarce law enforcement resources to enforce a law that did not make sense and to then not enforce laws that protected vulnerable users. Bjorn contacted Portland Bureau of Transportation bicycle planner Roger Geller to ask that the city remove the stop signs at Ladd’s Circle. When Roger detailed the engineering it would take (including interviews with the street-side residents who were complaining to the police about bike riders not stopping), it seemed like an impossible effort.

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So in 2007, Bjorn contacted Scott Bricker who was then lobbyist for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now the Street Trust) and urged him to consider another legislative effort in Oregon, this time with more widespread grassroots support from the community. It was late in the session but both Senators Jason Atkinson (who in 2012 referred to himself as, “The most hardcore cycling fan who is also a registered Republican” and is now running for Congress) and Lane County Democrat Floyd Prozanski were receptive. Through the BTA Legislative Committee, Bjorn and other bicycle advocates worked to get the bill started.

(Prozanski, the politician; Warloe, the advocate; Thomas, the lawyer.)

While they were unsuccessful in 2007 (passing Oregon’s Vulnerable Road User Law was the organization’s top legislative priority that year), The Street Trust made Idaho Stop legislation a top priority during the next session in 2009 and put lobbyist Karl Rohde in charge of the effort.

This time around, an “Idaho Style” group formed by Bjorn had the advantage of excellent support materials. Jason Meggs, a UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduate student, had conducted a time-based comparison study of the effect of the Idaho Stop on injuries. In his research (titled simply “Stops Harm Bikes“) Meggs discovered a 14.5% decline in injuries after passage of the law in Idaho.

Another member of the Idaho Style group was Portland-based animator and illustrator Spencer Boomhower. He created an excellent video that displayed the logic behind the law change and published it online. The video quickly spread and became a key weapon that boosted awareness and respect for the concept.

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With these tools at their disposal, the bill received a few hearings, but the idea became a lightning rod of controversy. It attracted anti-Portland sentiment among many legislators and ultimately failed to advance. The combined efforts of the Idaho Style proponents and The Street Trust’s lobbying was unsuccessful again. It was a dispiriting defeat. The Idaho Stop effort of 2009 turned out to be the last major traffic law reform to emerge from the The Street Trust’ss Legislative Committee (which was gradually dismantled after its new Executive Director, Rob Sadowsky, felt the grassroots pre-occupation with minutiae of Oregon traffic law took too much staff time that would be better spent on the Vision Zero movement).

Former Republican Senator Jason Atkinson was an early and ardent supporter of the law.

While the Idaho Stop movement became dormant as the Street Trust focused its legislative efforts on major infrastructure and non-motorized transportation legislation for the next decade, Bjorn never stopped thinking about Idaho Stop. When he heard that Delaware passed its own version of the law in 2017, he wrote to Senator Floyd Prozanski and suggested it might be time to try again. Senator Prozanski knew that Oregon Democrats had a supermajority in the legislature and that he could use a placeholder bill – a bill drafted to provide a means to advance a new concept or amend an existing statute usually late in the session – to introduce a Delaware-style stop sign law. (Delaware Stop allows bicycle riders to treat a stop sign as a yield sign and yield the right-of-way to other vehicles before entering the intersection.)

When he learned that Arkansas had also passed its own Idaho Stop bill in March 2019, Prozanski saw an opportunity. “I figured if Arkansas can do it, a native Texan can get’er done in Oregon.” (Prozanski, who is also an avid road cyclist, drafted and shepherded the Oregon Safe Passing Law in 2007, which came about as the result of an unsafe pass by a log truck that caused the death of Eugene triathlete Jane Higdon.)

Bjorn, Prozanski and bicycle advocacy groups (including the Street Trust now led by Executive Director Jillian Detweiler) worked together to spread the word and considerable grassroots support arose for the measure. By the time Senate Bill 998 made it to the House Rules Committee, over 198 citizen letters had been submitted into the legislative record!

Less than five months after Bjorn contacted Senator Prozanski, the Oregon Legislature passed SB 998. (Even though the bill passed the Senate 21-8, it barely passed the House 31-28.) Prozanski’s staffer, Kevin Moore, observed, “I never saw Floyd beaming so much after a bill passage as he was after the House vote on SB 998.” On August 6, Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law with an effective date of January 1, 2020.

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Below is the salient text of the new law:

A person operating a bicycle who is approaching an intersection where traffic is controlled by a stop sign [or flashing red signal] may, without violating ORS 811.265, do any of the following without stopping if the person slows the bicycle to a safe speed:
(a) Proceed through the intersection.
(b) Make a right or left turn into a two-way street.
(c) Make a right or left turn into a one-way street in the direction of traffic upon the one-way street.
(2) A person commits the offense of improper entry into an intersection where traffic is controlled by a stop sign if the person does any of the following while proceeding as described in subsection (1) of this section:
(a) Fails to yield the right of way to traffic lawfully within the intersection or approaching so close as to constitute an immediate hazard;
(b) Disobeys the directions of a police officer or flagger, as defined in ORS 811.230;
(c) Fails to exercise care to avoid an accident; or
(d) Fails to yield the right of way to a pedestrian in an intersection or crosswalk under ORS 811.028.
(3) The offense described in this section, improper entry into an intersection where traffic is controlled by a stop sign, is a Class D traffic violation.

Keep in mind, the new law applies to stop signs and flashing red signals. It does not apply to standard traffic signals. Idaho added this provision in 2006 and many bicycle riders feel it’s a natural and logical extension of the stop sign provision. However, there are some bicycle advocates who worry that people may be less cautious if this aspect of the law was changed and would mistakenly ride into an intersection where other road users with a green light (who may have timed the light sequence) hit them and cause a major crash. On the other hand, the instinct for self-preservation comes to the forefront here; bicycle riders very rarely pull out in front of motor vehicle users. It also makes little sense for a bicyclist to sit at a red light waiting and waiting when there is no one to stop for.

When asked when he might add the signal to the law for Oregon as a next step, Senator Prozanski said, “Well, come see me in another few years on that one.” Since it appears Idaho’s signal law has been working well there for 13 years it is likely that the evolution of the Idaho Stop in Oregon will include further calls to add traffic signals into the equation.

Until then, enjoy your new freedom to yield at stop signs and flashing red signals. And remember to do it only after making sure it’s safe to do so.

For more on how Oregon got its Idaho Stop law, listen to Bjorn and I on a recent edition of the Sprocket Podcast.

— Ray Thomas

*TCN&F is a financial supporter of BikePortland

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What you should know about Oregon’s new distracted driving law

Monday, October 16th, 2017
Distracted driver being distracted.jpg

Scofflaw.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Our legal contributor Ray Thomas is an author and lawyer based in Portland.

On October 1, 2017, Oregon’s new distracted driving law went into effect. The law has an expanded scope and raises the penalties for violations. Here are a few things every Oregon bicycle rider should know about it.

People who walk and bike know all too well the risks drivers pose as they stare into screens and attempt to drive around us. Since we are not encapsulated inside a steel compartment looking at the world through safety glass, we see the shocking number of people who try to maneuver their cars and trucks down the streets while completely tuned out to anything but what is on the screen in front of them.

And the statistics confirm how deadly this behavior is: More than 4,000 crashes were caused by distraction in Oregon in 2014. And between 2011 and 2015 there were 54 fatalities and 15,150 injuries in Oregon caused by distracted drivers (see the Oregon Department of Transportation 2014 Oregon Traffic Crash Summary).
[Read more…]

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: Passing on the right from a rider’s perspective

Thursday, March 12th, 2015
A ride with the family-3

Knowing how to legally pass on the
right can help you get to your destination
faster and help you breathe easier.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Today’s article will try to clear up confusion about how and when you are legally permitted to pass another vehicle operator on the right side of the roadway.

While Oregon law did not specifically authorize passing on the right before 2006, the law was clarified that year to follow the great majority of other states (and the Uniform Vehicle Code) in specifically allowing bicycle riders to pass other vehicles on the right when it can be done safely.

Bicycle riders complained for many years about the pre-2006 Oregon law that appeared to prohibit passing on the right when road users were sharing the same lane. In 2005, the Oregon legislature (thanks to lobbying by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) voted to change the law so that passing on the right would be allowed “if the overtaking vehicle is a bicycle that may safely make the passage under the existing conditions” (ORS 811.415). The “new” law went into effect in January of 2006. [Read more…]

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: What you need to know about hit and run

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
Gresham-Fairview Trail gap at Burnside

(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Hit and runs are far too common in Oregon. Unfortunately, so is the feeling of helplessness about what to do about them. In the spirit that knowledge equals power, I’ve put together a primer on the laws surrounding hit and runs and what do to if you are ever involved in one.

Here’s the sad but true fact: If a vehicle operator* can escape a collision scene then the chances are they will get away without having to pay for the damage they caused and they can also avoid things like: arrest on an outstanding warrant; a DUI charge for driving/riding while impaired; a possible police search of the vehicle for drugs or contraband on board; a car with no insurance, or not having a drivers’ license.

If the perpetrator is ever caught (and they usually are), here’s what the law says about their crime.
[Read more…]

Get Legal: Being “nice” is dangerous and could make you at fault in a collision

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014
Rosa Parks Way -3

Being nice isn’t so nice when it creates confusion.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Written by lawyer Ray Thomas of Swanson, Thomas Coon & Newton.

Some road users go out of their way (and beyond the law) to be “nice.” Being nice isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it involves giving somebody a break, or allowing a successful traffic merge; but other times — such as when a driver waves another driver through stopped traffic — there can be disastrous consequences.

When road users go out of their way to accommodate others when there is no legal authority for doing so, it creates real trouble later if someone gets hurt as a result of their “nice” gesture. In this column, I’ll go over some common scenarios where being what you think is good can actually be very bad.[Read more…]

Get Legal: Auto insurance, biking, walking, and you

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Charley Gee helps us work through the
wonk on insurance.

Welcome to our Get Legal column. This is usually written by noted local bike lawyer Ray Thomas. But this time we’ve got one of Mr. Thomas’s co-workers Charley Gee filling in. Gee, an attorney at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton is also an expert on how bicycles fit into the legal fine print. Today he’ll unravel confusion that often exists around insurance. Specifically, how auto insurance policies impacts those of us who don’t drive much (or at all).

Q. I have an Oregon automobile insurance policy. What does that mean?

A. In Oregon, every automobile insurance policy has four areas of coverage: Liability, Personal Injury Protection (PIP), Property Damage, and Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM/UIM).

Q. What is PIP?

A. PIP covers medical expenses and lost wages if you are injured in a collision. In Oregon, the minimum amount of coverage is $15,000. PIP is (usually) “first party” coverage which means your automobile insurance covers your medical bills and wage loss despite the collision being the fault of another road user.

Q. I ride a bicycle and walk places sometimes, do I need to buy an additional insurance policy that covers me when I ride?
[Read more…]

Doored? The law is on your side (but that might not be enough)

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014
door zone warning stencil-10

(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you ever have the unfortunate luck of coming into conflict with another road user, it’s always a pleasure to find out the law is in your favor.

Usually, conflicts on the road relate to the question of who has the right to the same space at the same time. Having someone open their car door into you — a.k.a. getting “doored” — falls into this category. Usually a motor vehicle operator fails to see a bicycle rider and opens a door so close to their path that a collision or near-miss occurs. While defensive riding can go a long way toward avoiding this sometimes painful encounter, sometimes there is just nothing a rider can do — everything happens too fast.

Fortunately, this is one of those areas where the law is on the side of the bicycle rider. Here’s the relevant section of Oregon’s Vehicle Code (remember bicycles are “vehicles” too) that prohibits opening the door of any vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so:[Read more…]

Get legal with Ray Thomas: How to fight for your property damage claim (Part 2)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Now what?
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

(This is the second (and final) part of our in-depth look at property damage claims by Portland lawyer Ray Thomas*. See the first part here.)

V. Gear and Rental List

Sometimes riders are discouraged because the responsible driver’s insurance company fails to promptly pay on the property damage claim. In auto v. auto cases, property damage claims get settled promptly because claims adjusters are accustomed to providing a rental car while the damaged vehicle is in the shop getting fixed. The same law applies to bicycles – the bicycle rider is entitled to a rental vehicle or bus fare, ride-share costs or other reasonable expenses for the time it takes to get the damaged bicycle fixed and serviceable again. One tip for adding speed to the property damage disposition is to have the quote at the bicycle shop include the cost of a comparable rental bicycle by the day, week, and month so that the rider can let the adjuster know how the cost of delay is going to be transferred to the insurance company.[Read more…]

Get legal with Ray Thomas: How to fight for your property damage claim (Part 1)

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Now what?
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

(Publisher’s Note: We’ve split this article into two parts because Ray is an authority on this topic and he gets into some important details. Come back tomorrow for the finale. Also worth mentioning is that Ray’s firm, Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton, is a BikePortland advertiser and this column is part of our partnership. — Jonathan)

I. Introduction

Sometimes it’s tough to get fair treatment when a collision results in property damage but no personal injury. While it’s always better not to have to deal with a physical injury, there is not enough money involved from the contingent fee (1/3) on a property damage case for most lawyers to even justify opening a file, so most riders end up representing themselves. If you are going to go it alone it helps to know the lay of the land before you start. This article contains an overview of the law of property damage and some tips on how to get a fair amount for your damaged ride.

Fortunately, most bicycle collisions do not result in personal injuries. Instead, wheels get bent, helmets scraped and, if the accident is the motorist’s fault, a “property damage” claim is made against an insurance company. For bicyclists, property damage claims can be frustrating because they typically have little or no experience in legal matters and find themselves advocating for damages with experienced claims adjusters. Since the amount involved is usually small, the bicyclist ends up appealing to the claims adjuster’s sense of fairness. Most claims adjusters are not experienced riders and they are frequently shocked by the costs of bicycle repair and parts.[Read more…]

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: Oregon’s ‘Safe Passing’ law explained

Monday, January 6th, 2014

This is the final installment of our three-part series on Oregon’s passing laws written by our legal correspondent Ray Thomas. Read previous parts here and here.

The 2007 Oregon Legislature added an innovative law to the nation’s passing laws when Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) reformed Oregon’s bicycle passing laws with a new collection of legal concepts. The new passing law was intended to remedy several factors believed responsible for the tragic death of triathlete Jane Higdon on Territorial Road in Eugene when she and a group of riders were passed by a truck hauling logs.

Here’s the text of the law:[Read more…]