Today is back to school day here in Portland and that means that in many neighborhoods the streets and sidewalks are going to filled with kids headed to school in the morning and home or to after-school activities each afternoon. Coming one week after a 15-year-old was killed while crossing a city street this is a time to reflect on what we can all do to help keep kids safe.

According to a report by TV station KATU, the fatal crosswalk accident took place earlier this month at the corner of Southeast Hawthorne and 43rd. The 15-year-old girl was hit by a 20-year-old driver who “was passing other cars, reaching upwards of 60 mph” before the fatal accident. The girl’s friends and family came together last Friday for a memorial bike ride in her honor that began on Salmon Street, stopped at City Hall and ended at the accident site. “The protestors, specifically, have taken issue with Vision Zero, Portland’s initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate traffic deaths,” KATU wrote about the memorial ride. “Critics argue the initiative hasn’t done much except outline a goal.”

With the accident freshly in mind The Oregonian offered some useful reminders concerning back-to-school safety. The newspaper notes that there are no statewide regulations requiring school zones to be identified in a consistent manner. That creates a special responsibility for drivers to be aware of their surroundings, since it isn’t always immediately clear that one is around a school, especially when in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city. The paper notes that only 30 percent of kids arrive at school in a family car and 22 percent ride a school bus. That leaves about one-third of all students walking to school while another 10 percent ride bikes.

With the first day of school here in Portland now less than two weeks away this is a good time to focus our attention once again on the issue of lead in school drinking water. As I wrote in a blog last May, the issue emerged with special urgency as the previous school year drew to a close with the citywide scandal in Flint, Michigan drawing national attention to lead poisoning issues nationwide.

Unfortunately if local and national media coverage are anything to go by the answer to the question: ‘Have the Portland schools used the summer months to fix the problem?’ is: hard to say; it isn’t clear. An article published in The Oregonian just this week focused on similar problems in Beaverton – indicating that the problem is not confined to Oregon’s largest city, but with the Portland Schools still trying to finalize selection of an interim superintendent attention appears to have drifted away from the issue of lead in the school system’s drinking water.

As a report last week in The Oregonian detailed, the Portland Public Schools system’s record is not good. “Lead-reducing filters cost about $100 and are proven by independent laboratories to reduce lead to below 10 parts per billion. The district used filters that in 2008 cost $12.87 apiece.” A 2007 plan to install filters directly on drinking fountains went awry when it was discovered that the contractor used the wrong filters. A 2011 attempt using a different company led to filters that were supposed to last seven months failing after only 12 days.

Two months ago I wrote about the legal issues surrounding traveling carnivals and the fact that in many parts of the country they receive far fewer safety inspections than one might think. The death last week of a 10-year-old boy who was riding what is billed as the world’s largest waterslide, has brought these issues sharply into focus with new attention being paid to fixed-location rides in theme parks, and how they differ, in regulatory terms, from traveling carnivals. The 168-foot-tall waterslide where this month’s tragedy occurred is located at an amusement park near Kansas City, Kansas.

One might expect that large rides designed to induce an adrenaline rush through speed and danger would receive more regular and more careful attention than a traveling show: they offer even greater potential danger (because of the heights and speeds involved) yet are far easier to inspect (since they are not constantly moving from town to town). As the reporting since last week’s tragedy has shown, however, that assumption is badly misplaced.

The Kansas City Star reports that the “responsibility for inspecting Schlitterbahn water park rests primarily with its owners, not any state or federal agency.” The newspaper added that the water slide where the boy died “had not been inspected by the state since it opened two years ago, government records show.” More tellingly, the paper reports that a Kansas law governing amusement park rides requires annual inspections but allows these to be conducted by private-sector inspectors hired by the ride’s owners. The state can audit the inspection records, but is prevented by law from doing so more than twice every six months. According to the Star there have been no state inspections of the waterslide where the boy died in the two years since the ride opened.

As the Portland Tribune noted last month, our city recently hosted a major media event in which “a fleet of high-tech electric vehicles were road-tested in downtown Portland by more than a dozen automotive journalists.”

The Tribune reported that “all of the drives went smoothly, with cars easily weaving through midday traffic, even over the Hawthorne Bridge with its notoriously slippery steel grating and the Morrison Bridge with its deteriorating decking.” The test event comes at a moment when self-driving technology is still far from mainstream, but is clearly moving in that direction. Tesla (which, the Tribune reports, did not participate in the Portland event) and Google have both received huge amounts of publicity for the self-driving cars they are working to develop.

That fact, however, makes it all the more important that we use this moment to begin a serious conversation about the legal issues that self-driving cars will inevitably raise. The question is especially timely because it was barely two months ago that “the driver of an all-electric Tesla car was killed in a crash while driving on the manufacturer’s ‘Autopilot’ system.” As the Tribune goes on to note: “”(T)he ‘Autopilot’ name gave the impression the systems – which have never been approved by the federal government – could drive the cars safely by themselves.”

Late last month Ikea agreed to recall 29 million children’s chests and dressers that had been sold in the United States and Canada since 2002. After pressure from the public and state media in China the company extended the recall to that country as well, adding another 1.7 million units to the total, according to a recent article in Slate.

“The Swedish company announced the American recall after the deaths of at least six toddlers, cases where the near-ubiquitous Malm and other models of chests and drawers toppled over and fell onto children,” Slate reported. Yet as the online magazine also reports, Ikea says it has no plans to recall millions more units that have been sold outside North America and China.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission “the recalled chests and dressers are unstable if they are not properly anchored to the wall, posing a serious tip-over and entrapment hazard that can result in death or serious injuries to children.” The announcement on the CPSC website (see link below) noted that the agency and Ikea are aware of three fatalities and at least 17 injuries linked to the chests tipping over. All three of the tragic deaths involved children under the age of two. In each of these cases the chest or dresser in question was not secured to a wall.

A fatal stabbing at a niteclub in Northeast Portland last week has led to a murder charge, according to a report published in The Oregonian. It also raises a significant civil law question, however, one that deserves greater public attention as the case unfolds in the weeks and months to come.

According to the newspaper a 29-year-old woman was stabbed to death in a club on NE 60th Avenue last week following an argument with a 23-year-old woman. Citing police the newspaper reports that the two women knew each other. The victim died at the scene and the alleged killer was arrested without incident shortly thereafter at a nearby convenience store. In addition to murder the suspect has been charged with unlawful use of a weapon, according to the newspaper.

What makes this case particularly interesting from a civil perspective is the long history of violence in or near the club. According to The Oregonian “the club has been connected with violence in the past. A 33-year-old man died and a 21-year-old woman was injured in an overnight shooting outside the club in 2013. And in January 2011 a man celebrating his 24th birthday was fatally shot outside the club.”

The death over the holiday weekend of a well-known figure in Brooklyn’s cycling community is being investigated by police as a possible intentional hit-and-run, according to the local website Gothamist. The death is focusing attention once again on the dangers the cycling community faces even in cities that strive to be bike-friendly.

The website, citing law enforcement sources and a local television station, reports “that the driver of a black Chevy Camero intentionally crashed into (the victim) around 2:20am Saturday” on a Brooklyn street as he was riding home from his job as a bartender in Manhattan. Video of the incident was captured by a security camera at a restaurant near the scene of the fatal bike and car crash.

It is especially important to note that the victim was riding in a bike lane at the time of the incident. “Investigators believe the driver pulled alongside… slowed down and moved the car partially into the bike lane, where the victim was riding… the driver then hit (the bicycle’s) rear tire and as the victim fell off his bike the driver slammed into him again, running over him and dragging him about 20 to 30 feet.”

It is a sad, if well-established, fact that an improving economy and lower gas prices tend also to lead to increased traffic deaths throughout the United States. A recent Associated Press article, republished by The Oregonian, documented how true this statistical trend remains.

“Traffic deaths surged last year as drivers racked up more miles behind the wheel than ever,” the news agency writes. “Fatalities rose 7.7 percent to 35,200 in 2015, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last year was the deadliest driving year since 2008, when 37,423 people were killed. It was also the year in which Americans drove 3.1 trillion miles. More than ever before.” What is striking, however, is the revelation that “the Northwest region, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, saw the nation’s biggest increase in fatalities with a 20 percent jump.” The article also notes that motorcycle-related fatalities “are a bigger and bigger percentage of deaths each year.”

Analysts have debated for years why traffic deaths go up during better economic times. The article quotes a spokesman for the Insurance Institute, an industry research and lobbying group, saying: “it’s not just that Americans drive more miles when the economy improves, it’s the kind of miles they drive… what comes back after a recession is the optional driving that’s riskier, like going out on the weekends or taking long trips.”

Last Friday was a significant day in Gresham. It marked the first anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Aaron Peters, and also the dedication of what family and friends hope will be the first of many monuments built in his memory.

A gathering in Gresham’s Oxbow Park, near the site on the Sandy River where Aaron drowned last year, marked the dedication of a life jacket kiosk funded with money raised by the Aaron Peters Water Safety Fund. The kiosk offers several dozen life jackets in sizes from infant to adult. They are available for free as loans to anyone using the park who wants or needs them. “We don’t want any family to go through what we did. If one person is saved it’s all worth it,” Aaron’s grandfather, Don Wood, told television station KGW at the ceremony.

Through the fund the family hopes the Oxbow Park kiosk will be only the first of many. Statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control indicate that drowning is a surprisingly widespread problem, especially among children and teenagers. “From 2005-2014 there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States – about 10 deaths per day,” the CDC website reports. It goes on to note that while small children are more likely to drown in a swimming pool “the percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers and oceans increases with age.” Among teens 15 and older 57% of all drownings take place in natural waters. Since rivers are rarely protected by lifeguards the presence of a kiosk like the one dedicated in Gresham last Friday can make all the difference for a child or adult wanting to take advantage of the river.

An account in The Oregonian this week of a bereaved mother suing both a property management company and a window blind manufacturer in the wake of the death of her 3-year-old daughter is drawing attention to yet another preventable household safety hazard.

According to the newspaper, the toddler was visiting a family friend with her mother in February 2015 “when she became entangled in a dangling cord.” The girl’s mother “was in the same room with her, but hadn’t realized what was happening until it was too late, said a lawyer for the estate.” The suit targets both the property management company that ran the apartment complex in Clackamas, and “blind manufacturer Newell Window Furnishings for allegedly allowing cords longer than 7-1/4 inches to hang from the window covering at the apartment complex” the newspaper reports. That length is the standard recommended by Parents for Window Blind Safety and other advocacy groups.

What is particularly striking about this case is the revelation that the management company allegedly failed “to remove dangerous cords from the apartment even after recalls and retrofitting efforts initiated by blinds makers in 1994 and again in 2000.” One has to ask, however, if the industry has been aware of this critical safety issue for more than 20 years, why are blinds with dangerously long cords still in apartments and homes anywhere?