As we move into an extra-long holiday weekend the Oregon State Police are already on the lookout for drunk drivers. A news release issued on Tuesday noted that the first of many “saturation patrols” across the state is scheduled to begin Friday in Tillamook County. An OSP news release says that “our main goal is not to catch drunk drivers, but to be seen everywhere and hopefully to deter someone from driving while intoxicated.” But it is always important to remember that the police are there to do more than simply scare people into doing the right thing. This year, as in years past, they will be doing much more than simply being seen.
The news release can be viewed as a kind of opening salvo in the sad but absolutely necessary ritual of reminding people not to combine drinking and driving over the New Year’s holiday. The warning is especially pointed this year because New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday – meaning many people will have Monday off as well, creating a holiday period that runs from the evening of December 30 all the way into the early hours of January 3. Add in the now widespread availability of marijuana – which is legal to consume here in Oregon but which, like alcohol, is considered an intoxicant – and the potential for danger on the roads is significant.
Chapter 813 of the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) lays out the legal framework surrounding drunk driving in our state. It defines DUII as operating a vehicle when having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more, but also allows convictions at a lower level if the alcohol is used in combination with “a controlled substance or an inhalant.” (Section 813.011 (1)(b)) Two DUII convictions in a 10-year period automatically raise the stakes. In that case a third conviction would be a Class C felony under Oregon law, leading to a loss of driving privileges for 10 years and a mandatory jail sentence.
In addition to these criminal penalties it is worth remembering the human cost of drunk driving. Oregon’s dram shop laws are one way that we try to make it clear to everyone that the chain of responsibility for many drunk driving fatalities includes more than simply the person behind the wheel. Restaurants, retail outlets and their employees can be held responsible for the damage caused by a drunk driver if they served or sold alcohol to someone who was visibly impaired. This is something that anyone working over the holiday weekend also ought to keep in mind.
On a brighter note, The Oregonian reports that Tri-Met will once again be making its services free this New Year’s Eve. The newspaper reports that MAX trains, busses and the Portland streetcar will all stop charging fares at 8pm on New Year’s Eve and will remain fare-free until 3am. Most services will be operating on a Saturday schedule, however, which means that some may shut down earlier than usual. See the article linked below for full details.
As a Portland lawyer who handles numerous DUII cases each year, helping victims obtain justice in the wake of terrible tragedy, I urge everyone to do the responsible thing this weekend. Use the free busses and trains, take a cab or a ride-sharing service, have a designated driver. Above all, do not become another New Year’s statistic as 2016 turns to 2017.
ORS Chapter 813: Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants