In the early part of last week six people died on Portland’s streets over the course of just a few days. At one point, according to The Oregonian, “emergency personnel responded to fatal accidents in North, Southeast and Northeast Portland” in a span of just 11 hours. Going into this holiday week, the newspaper reports, “14 people have died on Portland streets (in 2019), up from 10 deaths at the same time last year.”
City officials urged drivers to slow down, and the police chief announced on Twitter that “I am directing officers to increase enforcement.” “But,” she added, “this is everyone’s responsibility.” The newspaper quotes a city transportation official offering some advice that bears repeating: drivers “need to be alert and to look out for people walking, not drive distracted, not under the influence.”
I have used this space on many previous occasions to note Portland’s efforts to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths. A big part of that has been Portland’s participation in the global Vision Zero program (see links below). As The Oregonian explains, Vision Zero aspires to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025 through a combination of “redesigning streets, educating the public about safety concerns and enforcing traffic laws.” As part of Vision Zero Portland has both stepped up enforcement efforts and lowered the speed limit on key streets and roads around the city.
In this effort civil law and courts play a role that parallels the criminal justice system. Civil cases offer Oregonians the opportunity to put their lives back together after they or a loved one have been injured through someone else’s recklessness or negligence. Take, for example, the three things cited by the Portland transportation official quoted by The Oregonian. Our laws against reckless driving (ORS 811.140), distracted driving (ORS 811.507) and DUII (ORS 813.010) together create an interconnected legal framework. People charged with DUII, to pick an obvious example, can also reasonably be said to have been driving recklessly.
When examining any particular case a good attorney will also ask whether there is a broader circle of persons who were responsible for the injury. Oregon’s dram shop and social host laws, for example, place a degree of accountability for drunk driving on the people who serve or sell alcohol. Because Oregon law requires anyone who mixes, serves or sells alcohol “in any manner” at a restaurant, bar or nightclub to complete an education course and obtain a permit there is little scope for people in those jobs to claim ignorance of the law.
All of this can be complicated and confusing. As an Oregon lawyer whose practice focuses on helping accident victims and their families I have always seen education as one of my main jobs. The traffic safety measures being put in place around Portland help keep all of us safe. Our legal system is here to enforce accountability and make sure that the laws serve their intended purpose.
Portland bureau of Transportation: Vision Zero