Legal Section Archives

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

Posted on October 16th, 2017 at 1:59 pm.

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).
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Here are the Oregon House bills we’re following this session (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on February 21st, 2017 at 1:36 pm.

Legislator bike ride at the Oregon Bike Summit-1

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The 2017 Oregon Legislative Session is well underway and we’re following as many bills as humanly possible (in a one-person newsroom).

Out of the thousands of bills swirling around the halls and meeting rooms of the state capitol building in Salem, there are few of particular importance to transportation reform advocates. Last week we shared the Senate bills we’re following and below are the House bills we’ve got an eye on…

House Bill 2355

Summary: “Directs Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to develop method for recording data concerning officer-initiated pedestrian and traffic stops” (Official overview)
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Here are the Oregon Senate bills we’re following this session (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on February 17th, 2017 at 10:00 am.

Legislator bike ride at the Oregon Bike Summit-1

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The 2017 Oregon legislative session is well underway. Votes have already taken place and bills are moving up and dying off as I type this.

I’ve combed through hundreds of bills to find ones that matter to people who care about transportation safety and the culture of our streets. Since there are so many bills I want to bring to your attention, I’ve decided to do this in two parts. First I’ll share a list of the Senate bills I’m following. Then in a separate post, I’ll share the House bills.

Here we go…
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Lawmakers, ODOT Director hear emotional testimony at Vision Zero bill hearing

Posted on February 15th, 2017 at 1:01 pm.

ODOT Director Matt Garrett (lower right) was in the house for today’s hearing.
(Photo: Oregon Walks)

A bill that would establish an official State of Oregon Vision Zero Task Force got its first public hearing today. And it was heart-wrenching.

The eight members of the House Committee On Transportation Policy who presided over the hearing for House Bill 2667 probably didn’t expect the 8:00 am start time to attract testimony from nearly two-dozen people. And they probably didn’t expect to hear from people like Marina Hajek, the mother of a 10-year old boy who was hit and killed by a reckless, speeding driver while walking his bike across a street in Eugene 10 years ago.
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Portland Parks says immunity ruling won’t impact volunteers at Gateway Green, other sites

Posted on February 9th, 2017 at 4:52 pm.

Turns out the forthcoming bike park at Gateway Green won’t be “crippled” by a court decision after all.

After the Willamette Week published a scary story yesterday about a legal loophole in Oregon law that allows people to sue city employees and volunteers for injuries sustained on City-owned properties, we’ve been trying to learn more about potential impacts to not just Gateway Green but the over 200 other Parks-owned properties around Portland.

If other cities have closed recreational facilities due to this loophole, what would happen in Portland? Volunteers are the backbone of many parks and public lands where we ride bikes, and losing them — or losing access completely because of liability concerns — would be a major setback.

Our initial inquiries with the City of Portland and other sources to clarify these impacts didn’t get very far. The Parks Bureau seemed to be caught off-guard by the Willamette Week story and no one else would comment due to it being a sensitive legal issue (if only I had a nickel for every time I heard “Sorry, I can’t discuss legal matters”). The City’s Office of Government Relations would only refer us to the pending legislation that will close the loophole and that we outlined in our story yesterday.

But what if those bills don’t pass? How will Parks’ and other public lands in Portland and throughout the state be impacted by the 2016 Oregon Supreme Court Ruling that found the legal concept of “recreational immunity” does not extend to city employees?
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Willamette Week: Legal concerns cloud Gateway Green bike park and other city properties

Posted on February 8th, 2017 at 1:33 pm.

Community Cross at Gateway Green-1

Should volunteers or city employees who work on parks facilities — like the upcoming Gateway Green — be open to liability lawsuits?
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

NOTE: Please read our important update to this story posted on Thursday 2/9 at 5:00 pm.

I didn’t know much about Oregon’s “recreational immunity” law when I woke up this morning. But since reading, “Portland’s First Mountain-Bike Park Could Be Crippled by a Court Decision” in the Willamette Week I’ve given myself a crash-course. And so should you.

That article lays out the case that a 2016 Oregon Supreme Court decision throws access to public parks (and all public lands more broadly) into question due to potential legal liability for landowners.

In a nutshell, that decision found that employees and volunteers of landowners are not covered by the same legal immunity as the owners of the land (as laid out in Oregon’s 1971 Public Use of Lands Act). For more on the ruling and the existing law, check out this article.
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New York’s high court says city’s unsafe street design makes them liable for injuries and deaths

Posted on January 10th, 2017 at 2:57 pm.

Advocates in New York City are all abuzz about the ruling.

It happens way too often: Someone is seriously injured or killed at a location that’s a known traffic safety hot-spot. As an activist, it’s infuriating. I can only imagine what it’s like for the family and friends of victims.

After years of assuming cities had blanket immunity from liability when it came to street design decisions, a recent decision by New York’s highest court has thrown that into question. The court found that the City of New York can be held partly liable for a man’s death because they knew the road encouraged speeding and unsafe driving but they failed to study and implement measures to mitigate the risk.

The ruling is being hailed as a “landmark” and “game-changing” decision by New York City nonprofit organization Transportation Alternatives. Here’s what they said in a statement last week:

“The New York high court just ruled that the City can be held liable for failing to study and implement traffic calming measures, which the jury determined were a major factor contributing to the crash. In a 2004 incident, the driver was traveling at 54 mph on Gerritsen Avenue, which had a speed limit of 30 mph. Prior to the incident, the City had been advised by local residents, elected officials, and the Department of Transportation that speeding was common on the street, but that no sufficient speed study or traffic calming review was performed. The Court found the City liable for failing to adequately study and mitigate the road conditions that contributed to the speeding, stating that “an unjustifiable delay in implementing a remedial plan constitutes a breach of the municipality’s duty to the public.”[Read more…]

In SF, Uber’s robot cars follow Oregon law and bike advocates are very afraid

Posted on January 6th, 2017 at 9:51 am.

Graphic from the SF Bicycle Coalition. In Oregon, the opposite is true — the image on the left is “correct” and the right is “wrong.”

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is so afraid of how Uber’s autonomous vehicles take right turns at intersections that they’ve posted a warning for bike riders and have started a petition to force the company to end the practice.

Interestingly, the dangerous maneuver being made by Uber-bots is exactly what Oregon law requires — and what Portland’s chief bike planner prefers.

Here’s the deal:
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Oregon Senate prez wants distracted driving penalties on par with drunk driving

Posted on December 16th, 2016 at 12:02 pm.

Distracted driver being distracted.jpg

Stop it. You’re drunk.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation has been beating a steady drum all year about one very important part of their approach to traffic safety: distracted driving. Now it looks like the Oregon legislature has their back and we could see a major change to the law in the 2017 session.

According to a story in the Salem Statesmen-Journal Wednesday, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) wants to significantly ramp up the legal consequences for people caught driving while texting, talking, or using social media apps. In fact, he’s so concerned about the threat of distractions that he wants to expand Oregon’s existing cell phone law (ORS 811.507) and make the penalties commensurate with driving under the influence.

From the Statesmen-Journal:[Read more…]

Man charged with death of Mitch York is back in custody facing new manslaughter charge

Posted on November 18th, 2016 at 10:14 am.

Schrantz booking photo.

Schrantz booking photo.

Joel Schrantz, the man with a long driving record who was driving on a suspended license when he failed to control his car and allowed it to slam into and kill Mitch York on the St. Johns Bridge last month, is back in custody.

After being initially arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide, Schrantz posted $2,000 bail (10 percent of total bail amount) and was set free pending trial. We confirmed with residents in his St. Johns neighborhood that he was indeed back at home. We also confirmed with the District Attorney’s office that Schrantz was under court mandate to check-in with law enforcement everyday and was not allowed to drive a car.

This past Tuesday, Schrantz was back in court to face formal charges in the case. According to Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Elisabeth Waner, the Grand Jury returned an indictment for the enhanced charge of manslaughter in the second degree (ORS 163.125). This is significant because manslaughter is a much more serious crime than criminally negligent homicide.
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