A study recently released by the Oregon Department of Transportation appears to show that careful and comprehensive education efforts can have a significant impact on distracted driving, according to a recent report by Bend TV station KTVZ. The station quotes an ODOT report finding that “a coordinated high-visibility campaign in Bend aimed at reducing distracted driving had a significant impact on raising awareness of the importance of not texting/talking while driving.”

According to the TV station, the study was co-sponsored by the ODOT, Portland State University and Bend’s police department. “The report shows, among other findings, that almost 12 percent of people who were exposed to the “U Drive, U Text, U Pay” message reduced their texting-while-driving activity,” KTVZ reports.

Considering that the tagline of the campaign focused on money – the fines drivers can receive if they violate Oregon’s distracted driving laws – it is especially noteworthy that the study found that “the most common reason for respondents decreasing their texting-while-driving was ‘increased awareness of safety.’” This reason was cited by 30 percent of the drivers studied. In other words: while the campaign slogan focuses on drivers’ wallets the program was successful because it helped convince Oregon drivers that safety issues come first.

The article quotes the head of the ODOT’s Transportation Safety Division saying “we know cellphone-involved crashes are severely underreported.” What is even more fascinating, however, is the study’s finding that “the age group with the highest reported cellphone usage while driving (is) 35-44 year-olds and the lowest reported usage” is among the youngest drivers: 16 to 24-year-olds. What this hints at is the possibility that more distracted driving education programs should be aimed at older drivers, not in place of the many existing initiatives focused on teens but as a supplement to them.

As a Portland distracted driving attorney I hope this study receives the attention it deserves. We talk a lot about these issues here in Oregon and around the country but too often the conversation focuses on assumptions rather than facts. As this study demonstrates the problem is not confined to teen drivers and can be effectively addressed by a well-constructed education plan. KTVZ notes that the ODOT plans to use the survey data “for coordinated educational and enforcement campaigns.” That is excellent news, and a sign that the state continues to take distracted driving seriously. On a holiday weekend, when more people than usual are on the road, it is particularly timely news.


KTVZ: ODOT: Bend Campaign had impact on distracted driving

An Oregon car accident near Amity on route 99W sent a highway worker to the hospital last week. According to The Oregonian, a ‘flagger’ employed by a private company was “taken to a Portland hospital with serious injuries” after being struck by a car in the early evening. The Oregon traffic accident occurred near milepost 47 on Route 99W and closed the road to traffic for what the newspaper describes as “an extended period of time.”

The paper reports that the driver remained on the scene and cooperated with police. It also, however, reports that investigators believe “alcohol or drugs may have been a factor” in the incident and that they are considering criminal charges against the driver.

On its surface this might seem like a fairly straightforward Oregon traffic accident case. The specifics, however, raise several interesting legal questions. We would normally suppose a highway worker injured on the job to be covered by workman’s comp, but the fact that the flagger was injured by a third party – the driver – changes the situation in some ways. Most notably, if drugs or alcohol were, indeed, involved in the accident that opens the possibility of a legal claim under Oregon’s social host and dram shop laws against not only the driver but also the individual, bar or liquor store that gave or sold the driver drugs or alcohol. Because Oregon requires training in the specifics of its dram shop laws for all bartenders this sort of liability can be especially difficult to avoid.

It is also necessary for police to explore whether the situation along the roadside was sufficiently safe. Based on the media reports alone we cannot draw any conclusions about this, but common sense indicates that there are safe and unsafe ways to set up a flagging operation. If the company that employed the highway worker did not pay enough attention to setting up its flagging operation in a safe way it, too, could face legal action.

As an Oregon and Washington car and truck accident lawyer I see far too many cases like this every week. With a busy holiday weekend coming up, and winter weather set to arrive soon, it is especially important that anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car or truck takes every proper safety precaution. Drinking and driving is a particular problem during the holidays, and it should not require public information campaigns for everyone to keep that in mind.


The Oregonian: Flagger Struck by Vehicle on Oregon 99W south of Amity

In an effort to reduce sports injuries to children the United States Soccer Federation “unveiled a series of safety initiatives aimed at addressing head injuries in the sport” earlier this month, according to a recent report in the New York Times.

The new regulations “will prohibit players 10 and younger from heading the ball and will reduce headers in practice for those from age 11 to 13,” the newspaper reports. More details of the policy are expected to be announced in the next month, but at a time of increased attention to concussions and other traumatic brain injuries throughout the sports world in general and among younger athletes particularly this announcement is a welcome development. As the newspaper notes, documents submitted as part of the case showed that “nearly 50,000 high school soccer players sustained concussions in 2010 – more players than in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined.”

“The rules will be mandatory for US Soccer youth national teams and academies, including Major League Soccer youth club teams, but the rules will only be recommendations for other soccer associations and development programs that are not under US Soccer control,” the paper reports. Still, this action by the US’ important governing body for the sport is bound to have a ripple effect even in leagues where its rule-making does not directly apply.

The decision can also be seen as a victory for our legal system. The Times notes that the federation issued the new rules in part to “resolve a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against US Soccer and others last year.” At a time when, as I have written recently, the entire idea of class actions is under attack from big business this outcome is a reminder that these suits remain an important tool for ordinary Americans even when the issue, as in this case, does not reach a trial court.

As an Oregon lawyer who is very concerned about court access issues and whose practice focuses on injuries to children I’m very pleased by this outcome. It is proof that our system works and it will offer significant protections for young athletes at a time in life when they need them most.


New York Times: US Soccer, Resolving Lawsuit, Will Limit Headers for Youth Players

An article this week in The Oregonian described an unexpected appearance by the governor at a State Senate committee hearing considering ways to prevent injuries to children by overhauling Oregon’s foster care system. As the newspaper explained, the hearing, which it described as “tense”, was prompted “by accusations that officials did little as a Portland provider neglected vulnerable children.”

The governor made “a surprise appearance before the Senate’s human services committee, (and) offered details on a promise this month to order an independent review of the Department of Human Services. The assessment… will focus on abuse investigations, licensing practices and how the far-flung agency can better share warning signs, among other topics.”

The hearing was prompted by the discovery that state officials continued to place children with a Portland facility even after they were aware of abuse allegations there, according to the paper. The investigation was set in motion by the state’s justice department but raises broader legal questions. If a child were to die at such a facility both state officials and the people directly responsible for caring for the children could be the subjects of an Oregon wrongful death action. Injuries to children are especially serious, which is why the law needs to allow for swift and tough action in both criminal and civil courts.

A particularly important aspect of the proposed reforms is a bill scheduled to be considered by the legislature next year which “would declare that all abuse and neglect investigation reports would be public records, provided they involve a state-funded program.”

As a Portland lawyer specializing in injuries to children I believe this would be a particularly important change to the law – one that would make it far harder for dangerous or neglectful foster care facilities to evade accountability for their actions. The bill also, according to The Oregonian, revises the legal standard for neglect and abuse and makes it easier to demand accountability. Current law “strictly limits investigations, usually to cases involving serious injury or an ongoing threat,” the paper reports, but the proposed legislation would “set a lower threshold that would include threats, neglect through the denial of food or medicine, financial fraud and lesser injuries that don’t leave a child near death.” This combination of a broader – more sensible – definition of abuse and neglect combined with better public records access will offer Oregon children protections they should have had all along.


The Oregonian: Kate Brown, lawmakers reveal plans for foster care overhaul

A groundbreaking three-part series published last week by the New York Times has drawn much-needed attention to a problem threatening almost everyone in America despite the fact that many people are not even aware that it impacts them directly.

As the paper reports in part one of the series: “Over the past few years it has becomes increasingly difficult to apply for a credit card, use a cellphone, get cable or Internet service, or shop online without agreeing to private arbitration. The same applies to getting a job, renting a car or placing a relative in a nursing home.” As the series goes on to detail, while arbitration may originally have been conceived as a way for businesses to resolve disputes among themselves more quickly and cheaply than by using our courts it has become a more-or-less routine way for corporations to tilt the field in their favor in any dispute with their customers. The newspaper quotes a federal judge in Boston who aptly describes this development as “among the most profound shifts in our legal history… Ominously, business has a good chance of opting out of the legal system altogether and misbehaving without reproach.”

What makes the new realities outlined in the Times so scary is how widespread they have become in the years since 2011 when a Supreme Court ruling opened the way for wider use of arbitration clauses and made filing class action lawsuits more difficult. The system is particularly lopsided because the growing class of professional arbitrators who administer it generally rely on large corporations to bring them repeat business (an arbitrator must be approved by both sides to a dispute, but large companies have far more knowledge of who they are agreeing to, and can make it clear they will not pick a given individual again if he or she rules against the company) – a conflict of interest that the Times examines at length and which strips away even the thin façade of impartiality that surrounds the arbitration process.

The damage to ordinary Americans here in Oregon and elsewhere, however, goes far beyond making it harder to argue with a credit card company over a late fee or with your cable provider over services you didn’t order. As the series outlines many smaller businesses now routinely bury arbitration clauses in paperwork or terms of service for everything from nursing home care or child care to the purchase of services like home cleaning. As a result, if a child is injured through a company’s negligence or a loved one is killed it can be difficult or impossible to file a wrongful death action or, as part three of the series outlines, even to find out what happened in a facility where a loved one died.

As a Portland attorney I have long been aware of the ever-more-common use of arbitration clauses by companies seeking to avoid accountability for their actions. I urge everyone to read the articles linked below and to advocate changes to our laws that would restore Americans’ access to our court system when they are in need of justice.


New York Times Arbitration Series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

As an article in today’s Oregonian warns, Halloween has long been a night when pedestrians and drivers alike need to exercise particular caution. This year, however, the fact that October 31 is also the evening when we move from daylight saving time back to standard time makes tonight especially dangerous.

Halloween has always been a night when everyone should be especially aware of the possibility of injuries to children. In the twilight and early evening hours small children – many wearing dark costumes – are running around residential neighborhoods all over the country. The danger of a car accident rises significantly even for the most careful of drivers. The Oregonian reports that Halloween is traditionally the third-worst day of the year for pedestrian fatalities, surpassed only by New Year’s Day and December 23.

In recent decades, however, Halloween has also emerged as an adult party night with a reputation for drinking and driving that rivals New Year’s Eve. According to today’s article “in 2012 when 54 pedestrians died in car crashes on Halloween nationwide, nearly half of those deaths involved a drunk driver.”

The addition of daylight saving time to this mix adds an extra note of uncertainty and potential danger. As the paper notes, “while the switch to daylight saving time in the spring is linked to an increase in deaths resulting from drowsy driving after losing an hour of sleep, the fall switch has been linked in at least one study to an increase in fatal accidents the night of the switch.” The theory, according to medical researchers, is “that drivers, anticipating an extra hour of sleep, stay out later and suggest a tie to alcohol consumption.” Combine that with one of the biggest drinking nights of the year and the potential for accidents increases dramatically.

As a Portland attorney whose practice focuses on both injuries to children and the victims of drunk driving I urge everyone to take extra caution this evening. Whether you are taking the kids out to collect candy or hitting the party circuit later in the evening (or both) tonight is a night to be especially aware and to stay safe from start to finish.


The Oregonian: Two dangerous traffic nights: Halloween and daylight saving, converge

The criminal phase of a trial in Maryland of a former Bishop who struck and killed a bike rider while she was driving drunk is over, but the legal system may not be finished with the case. The driver, an Episcopalian Bishop at the time of the accident, “pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter, drunken driving and leaving the scene,” according to an Associated Press report posted on the ABC News website.

According to AP “her blood-alcohol was 0.22, and prosecutors said she was texting when she struck the 41-year-old cyclist… on December 27. The impact threw (him) onto (the car’s) hood and into the windshield of her car. He died of severe head trauma, leaving behind a wife and two young children.” The drunk driver left the scene of the accident for approximately 30 minutes, though she later returned, according to the AP.

Rarely does one see a case that raises so many legal issues in a single moment of irresponsibility: drunk driving, distracted driving, failing to share the road with cyclists, leaving the scene of an accident and, as a result of all that, a tragic fatality that may leave the driver open to a wrongful death action. Though the driver, who has been dismissed from her clerical position by the church, pled guilty, that acknowledgement of responsibility does little to ease the pain of the family she has torn apart. The AP quotes the victim’s sister-in-law describing the seven-year prison sentence (technically a 20-year sentence with all but seven years suspended by the judge) as “lukewarm.” It would also be interesting from a legal perspective to learn more about where the driver was drinking before the accident. Here in Oregon our Social Host and Dram Shop laws would place some liability for the accident on a host or a liquor store owner who served or sold the alcohol if the driver had appeared to be drunk at the time.

As a Portland personal injury lawyer whose practice focuses on many of the issues raised by this case I am glad to see that the criminal justice system has done its job, but will watch keenly to see whether the justice system takes the matter further. There are a number of issues here that may be best addressed in a civil proceeding. Only the victim’s family, however, can ultimately decide whether their own need for justice is best served by more time in court.


AP via ABC News: Bishop Who Killed Cyclist While Driving Drunk Gets 7 Years

The latest phase of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s long running investigation of distracted driving and its causes highlights some potentially disturbing issues, according to a recent article published by MyCentralOregon.com. As the website notes, “the results raise new and unexpected concerns regarding the use of phones and vehicle information systems while driving.”

Specifically, the study challenges the common assumption that switching to hands-free devices solves most distracted driving problems. According to the website, the study concluded that “potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist after a driver dials, changes music or sends a text using voice commands on a voice-activated system.” Especially interesting is the focus on things we do not usually think of when we use the term “distracted driving,” such as using a car’s music or navigation systems.

More critical, however, is the discovery that distracted problems go far beyond cellphones, and cannot be solved simply by switching to headsets, in part because the distraction these devices create lingers even after one’s attention returns to driving.

“Researchers found that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction can last for as long as 27 seconds after completing a distracting task, long enough for a driver to travel the length of nearly three football fields when moving at just 25 mph,” the site reports.

The website quotes the head of AAA referring to this as a “hidden and pervasive danger” in modern cars. It goes on to note that these lingering distractions are not confined to periods when cars are in motion. “When you’re using a voice-activated system when there’s a lull in traffic or you’re stopped at a red light, the mental distractions can persist and impact your ability to drive safely, even after the light turns green and you stop interacting with the system.”

As an Oregon and Washington distracted driving lawyer I’m glad to see attention being called to this self-evident, but often overlooked, truth: cellphones are not the only thing that can draw a driver’s focus away from the road, and even the most routine items, like a car’s radio or climate controls, can be almost as distracting as a phone call. It is important for all of us to be aware that distractions will always exist whenever we are behind the wheel, and to do everything we can to minimize them.


MyCentralOregon.com: Alarming new data from AAA distracted driving study

This is National Teen Driver Safety Week and to mark the occasion SafeKids, an organization I have long supported and helped promote, is doing all it can to publicize a set of simple, common sense, safety tips. Known as the “5 to Drive” the campaign aims to cut teen fatalities on our roads through simple, easy to remember, pointers:

  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Buckle Up. Every Trip.
  • Put it Down: Don’t text or talk on the phone
  • Stop Speeding
  • No More than One Passenger at a Time

As SafeKids outlines in their news release announcing the initiative (see link below) the problem is both real and immediate. “Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year olds in the United States,” the group notes. In 2013 over 2,600 teens in that age group were killed in vehicle crashes and a further 130,000 injured.

The first four points on the list have been the subject of many education campaigns over the years. Legally speaking teens should not be drinking at all and, like all drivers, they must wear seat belts. Oregon and many other states already have distracted driving laws on the books and speeding has been well-established as a leading cause of road accidents for generations. The final point on the list is less obvious but equally important. According to SafeKids “with each passenger in the vehicle, your teen’s risk of a fatal crash goes up.” Because that fact is less well known it deserves particular emphasis. It adds that because of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, in some states carrying more than one passenger is illegal for younger drivers. Here in Oregon newly licensed teen drivers are not allowed to carry any passengers under the age of 20 for the first 6 months they hold a license. During the second six-month period after earning a license they can carry no more than 3 under-20 passengers (in both cases family members are an exception to the rule).

As a Portland car crash lawyer with a practice focusing on injuries to children I welcome this initiative. I am especially happy to see that SafeKids is focusing its attention as much on parents as on teens themselves. As the group notes: “parents and caregivers are the biggest influence on a teen’s safety behind the wheel. Parents need to take the time to talk with their kids about the dangers of driving.” I might add that they also need to set a good example, by buckling up themselves, keeping off the phone, driving sober and observing the speed limit.


SafeKids Oregon: Talk to Teens About the “5 to Drive”

Governors Highway Safety Association: State-by-State list of GDL Laws


The number of deaths statewide in Oregon car crashes has jumped by 31 percent over the last year – a worrying statistic that, according to The Oregonian, state officials are unsure how to explain.

A recent article in the newspaper reported that “in the year that ended September 23, the state tallied 312 traffic fatalities, up from 238 for the same time period the year before… Pedestrian deaths soared by 64 percent to 54.”

Exactly why this is happening is not clear. The newspaper reports that in presenting the figures to a state senate committee in Salem, officials from the Oregon Department of Transportation called the numbers “pretty sobering” and “said at the hearing that the usual factors – speeding, no seatbelts, drunken and distracted driving – had something to do with the increase, but (the officials) said they’re still looking for solutions.” The Oregonian quotes one ODOT official telling the committee: “There’s no single factor, which means there’s no silver bullet.”

Still, one senator who attended the hearing felt the data showed a few things clearly. “I have to think a lot of it has to do with distracted drivers. Texting and all that, it’s a big deal,” Sen. Lee Beyer of Springfield told The Oregonian. The ODOT’s data show that 60 percent “of fatal crashes involved a car drifting from its lane, probably because of a cellphone or some other distraction,” the newspaper noted.

As a Portland car crash attorney with a special interest in distracted driving I am distressed by these numbers, but not especially surprised. As this blog chronicles month in and month out, there are far too many people who ignore Oregon’s distracted driving laws or drink and drive despite years of educational efforts on both issues. Because driving is so much a part of our culture – so integral to our daily lives – we often forget that it is inherently dangerous, and that getting behind the wheel of any vehicle involves an enormous amount of responsibility. Every driver needs to be aware not only of his own safety and that of friends and loved ones in the car, but also of his or her responsibility for the safety of everyone else on the road.


The Oregonian: More Oregonians are dying in car crashes, new data show