A report published this week in The Oregonian notes that a 39-year-old Portland garbage truck driver has been cited for careless driving. What makes this news item especially noteworthy, however, is the fact that additional penalties have been imposed on the truck driver under Oregon’s “vulnerable road user” law as a result of a July accident that left a bicyclist seriously injured. Though it has been on the books for nearly six years, the “vulnerable road user” provision is an essential protection for cyclists and pedestrians with which many Oregonians are still unfamiliar, so it merits our attention today.
First, the details of the Portland bicycle crash. As reported by The Oregonian, on July 12 the garbage truck driver hit the bike rider as the truck “turned left from Southeast 17th Avenue onto southbound McLoughlin Boulevard… Police said (the victim) was riding his bike southbound on 17th Avenue on the east side of the street and was crossing McLoughlin when the collision occurred.”
The bike rider “suffered traumatic injuries and was hospitalized. He has since been released from OHSU Hospital.” The driver cooperated with police in their investigation.
Section 811.135 of Oregon’s legal code defines careless driving as operating “any vehicle… in a manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.” In 2007, however, the legislature added a section to the law ordering extra penalties “if the court determines that the commission of the offense described in this section contributed to the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way.” The additional penalty when a vulnerable user (usually a pedestrian or a bicyclist) is seriously injured or killed involves a mandatory traffic safety course, community service (which “must include activities related to driver improvement and providing public education on traffic safety”) and a possible fine. The driver can also lose his or her license. These, it is worth repeating, come on top of any fine or jail time related to the careless driving itself.
As a Portland bicycle crash attorney it is important to me that drivers and riders alike are aware of these protections offered by our state’s laws. Oregon in general and Portland in particular have well-deserved reputations as one of the most bike-friendly parts of the United States. That is something we should be proud of. It does not, however, change the huge responsibility every driver assumes when operating a heavy, moving vehicle around people who have little or no protection in the event that a driver acts recklessly. As Oregonians we should be proud to live in a state that takes bicyclist and pedestrian safety seriously enough to offer vulnerable riders and walkers the extra legal protections they need.