Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accidents

One of the deadliest stretches of road in our city will see radical changes beginning today. According to The Oregonian automated speed cameras “will be activated along the 3/4 –mile stretch of Southeast Division Street between 148th and 162nd avenues.” This comes just four days after the city council voted to lower the speed limit along a broader stretch of the road, running from Southeast 87th Avenue to 154th Avenue.

While the speed limit cameras have been in the works for some time (a state law approving their use was passed in 2015) the choice of Southeast Division as the site for one of the first sets installed is evidence of how much of a problem this stretch of road has become. Last week The Oregonian quoted Dan Saltzman, the City Commissioner who oversees the Portland Transportation Bureau, referring to Southeast Division as “a death corridor.” The newspaper noted that of Portland’s 44 traffic fatalities last year five took place on this one stretch of road. The 2016 tally of fatal Portland auto accidents was the highest since 2003, and the concentration of so many deaths in such a small area made a strong case for action.

According to KGW the city transportation division “used a little-known state law to enable the Portland City Commission to quickly lower the speed limit. Commissioners used their emergency safety authority to reduce the speed limit with Thursday’s vote.” Normally it is state officials who control the setting and changing of speed limits. The move drops the speed limit in the area from 35 mph to 30 mph, but it is only effective for 120 days. Saltzman and other city officials said the statistics along Southeast Division cried out for immediate action. The city government hopes state officials will move to make the new lower limit permanent before the four-month measure expires and are preparing to file required paperwork requesting the change.

In banking and insurance – businesses that people need but often hate – few companies have as stellar a reputation as the United Services Automobile Association, commonly known by its initials: USAA. The company is a membership organization, functioning in much the same way as a credit union. Many of the services it provides are offered at a lower cost than comparable commercial competitors, with membership open only to people who have served in the military and their extended families.

Because its core market consists of active duty military, veterans and their families the organization is often surrounded by a kind of patriotic halo. Yet USAA, like any other company, is ultimately in business to make money. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that USAA has spent years fighting lawsuits that claim it frequently puts profits ahead of people in one of its core businesses: insurance.

According to the company’s Hometown newspaper, the San Antonio News-Express, “USAA continues to be dogged by lawsuits that allege it uses a ‘cost containment scheme’ to delay, deny or reduce medical payouts to customers injured in auto accidents.”

A bicyclist died in a Portland accident Monday involving a box truck, according to a report published in The Oregonian. The newspaper reports that the accident took place at the intersection of Farragut Street and Interstate Avenue in North Portland.

The truck driver was “making a right-hand turn and killed a cyclist who was riding in the bike lane beside him,” the paper reports, quoting the police. “(Police) said early information indicates the driver wasn’t distracted or impaired.” Though the newspaper reports that the driver of the truck is cooperating with the authorities it also notes that he was neither arrested nor issued a citation at the scene of the accident.

There are several different sections of the Oregon legal code that might come into play as this case unfolds. At the most basic level ORS 811.135, which covers Careless Driving, could leave the 38-year-old truck driver subject to significant penalties and a loss of his license for up to a year. Under ORS 811.050, “Failure to yield to rider on bicycle lane”, the driver could also be subject to a Class B traffic violation and an accompanying fine.

Word that a recent Vision Zero enforcement effort yielded more than 40 citations in just two hours is a reminder both of the program’s importance and of the larger role that our laws and courts play in ensuring the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists.

According to the advocacy organization Bike Portland “the Portland Police Bureau wrote 43 citations (for 61 separate violations) and handed out 23 written warnings… between 6:00 and 8:00 pm on Southeast Hawthorne Blvd between 12th and Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.” As the organization notes, this is a busy area, yet its car-focused traffic design ”hasn’t changed in decades.” It added that the Vision Zero enforcement action took place just a few blocks from the spot where a 15-year-old was killed last August while trying to cross the street.

Vision Zero is an initiative underway in Portland and a number of other cities with the goal of eliminating pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. As bike Portland notes: “unless we stop normalizing dangerous behaviors, introduce more safety regulations on car owners and redesign our streets to encourage safer behavior, this game of cat-and-mouse between police and road users will continue.”

A recent article in the Bend Bulletin highlighted an unusually deadly period on Central Oregon’s roads. Over the course of ten days at the end of last month “Central Oregon highways were as deadly as they have ever been,” the newspaper writes. In that short span of time seven separate crashes led to 10 deaths in the area around Bend – half of them on US Route 97 alone. To put those numbers in context, over the five-year period between 2010 and 2015 US 97 saw a total of 15 crashes and 17 deaths.

Citing Oregon Department of Transportation officials and figures the paper notes that over the last five years more than 90 percent of the crashes on this road have been driver-related, as opposed to being caused by weather or a mechanical issue. “The most common causes of crashes include following too closely, driving too fast for the road conditions and not yielding to a right-of-way,” the newspaper notes.

A consistent theme in the Bulletin’s reporting is local residents insistence that the area’s roads need more medians to separate fast-moving traffic and other measures to get drivers to slow down on roads that are often both narrow and frequented by large trucks. One of last month’s crashes involved a fatal head-on collision between a passenger car and a commercial semi-truck. The fact that icy road conditions may have been the main cause of that particular accident only reinforces the importance of medians and other safety barriers – which might have prevented it – and of safer habits on the part of commercial drivers and their employers.

A new law that came into effect in California this month is likely to be closely watched here in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere around the country. The wide-ranging legislation goes “further than most states in prohibiting the use of cellphones, banning drivers from even holding mobile devices while driving,” according to the New York Times.

The newspaper describes it as a legislative attempt to get ahead of the technology curve. “The law builds on earlier legislation that prevented drivers from talking and texting but did not prohibit them from streaming video, for instance, or using apps like Facebook and Twitter,” the paper reports. It notes that “late last month a family filed a lawsuit against Apple over a 2014 accident in which a driver using FaceTime crashed into the family’s car, killing their 5-year-old daughter.”

It may seem obvious that a law designed to prevent texting would also cover the use of Skype or FaceTime, but that is no excuse for legislators failing to tighten up the language of the relevant statutes. For example, here in Oregon the law governing distracted driving, ORS 811.507 (see link below), defines a “mobile communications device” as “a text messaging device or a wireless, two-way communications device designed to receive and transmit voice or text communication.” Would that definition cover the latest generation of the iPod Touch, a device that can’t make phone calls or send text messages but can surf the internet and make video connections? In a world where wi-fi networks are rapidly spreading around cities and towns this is no longer a theoretical question.

As we head into another long holiday weekend this is a good moment to remember the importance of road and traffic safety. This year caution is especially important because 2016 is already shaping up as an unusually deadly year both here in Oregon and nationwide.

As a recent article in The Columbian noted, “traffic fatalities were up 9 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year.” More alarmingly, however, Oregon was second in the nation (trailing only Vermont) in the extent to which traffic deaths have increased since 2014. Two years ago the state recorded 128 traffic fatalities during the first half of the year. This year the figure was 217 – a stunning 70 percent increase. Those numbers are all the more worrying when they are combined with the just-released estimate from the National Safety Council that some 438 people will lose their lives in traffic accidents nationwide over the holiday weekend (defined as 6pm local time on Friday through 11:59pm on Monday). In addition the Council estimates that the holiday period will see 50,300 people injured seriously enough that they will need to consult a doctor or another medical professional. Historically Labor Day sees more traffic accidents than most other holiday periods, the council’s news release notes.

There are, of course, many causes for traffic deaths, but on weekends like Labor Day attention inevitably focuses on drunk driving. A news release from the Oregon State Police warns motorists both to expect “heavy traffic volumes” and to “get a designated driver (plan ahead) if you plan on consuming intoxicating substances.”

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.

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.”

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.”