Articles Posted in Drunk Driving

With Memorial Day and the long summer season approaching this is a good time to revisit some difficult truths about drinking, driving and social responsibility.

The Klamath Falls Herald & News published a useful article recently focused on parental responsibility and teen drinking. The story focused on a demonstration staged at an area high school in the run-up to prom. The simulation portrayed “the devastating immediate effects of a serious accident” involving teenagers and alcohol. Though the focus of the demonstration was on teen responsibility, as the paper noted, a key point went unaddressed, specifically “the responsibility assumed by adults who furnish alcohol to underage drinkers.”

As the paper explains: “Any adults who think they are being good parents by hosting parties with underage drinkers would do well to look at the Oregon laws about such things.” Oregon law allows a parent or guardian to serve alcohol to their own underage child in their own home when they are personally present. That does not extend to hosting party where anyone else’s children will be drinking. The article quotes a warning to parents from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission: “If you allow your property and/or home to be used for a party where minors, other than your minor child(ren), consume alcohol in your presence, you may have to forfeit property and may be issued a criminal citation… The power to provide alcohol to a minor can’t be transferred from a parent to other adults.”

Over a two-week period earlier this month five pedestrians were killed on Portland’s streets, an extraordinary number for such a short period of time. One other pedestrian and three motorists had also died in Portland during the first 10 weeks of 2018, according to The Oregonian.

The newspaper quoted the city’s transportation director describing the middle of March as “an awful two weeks,” but also said she “remains hopeful Portland is making progress on improving safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.” She added that the recent spate of deaths “doesn’t discourage us and the work that we’re trying to do.” The paper quoted a representative from a local advocacy group arguing that the deaths showed the need for greater, and faster, investment in safety infrastructure.

Indeed, there is a strong argument to be made that the recent pedestrian deaths in our city make Vision Zero and other safety programs even more important than ever. As I have written in earlier posts, Vision Zero is a program that strives to make the city safer for everyone, whether they are walking, riding a bike or driving a car or truck.

Earlier this month the Portland City Council voted to approve “reducing the speed limit on all residential streets to 20 mph,” according to a statement issued by the city’s Bureau of Transportation. Street signs – and with them the speed limit street by street – will begin changing next month. The PBOT statement says it expects “to complete the process by April 1.”

Lest you think this is a minor thing, by the PBOT’s own reckoning “residential streets make up around 70 percent of Portland’s street network and a large proportion of the city’s total space… Most residential streets in Portland are narrow, have few marked crosswalks, and no bike lanes; given the tight space and lack of protection for people walking, using mobility devices, and biking it is important that people drive slowly on residential streets.”

The new lower speed limit is the latest element of the city’s “Vision Zero” plan – a series of initiatives launched in Portland and other cities around the country with the goal of eliminating pedestrian traffic deaths.

The holiday season is drawing to a close. New Year’s Eve is here. But it is not too late for a reminder that, amid the celebrations, tonight and tomorrow will be especially dangerous times to be on Oregon and Washington’s roads and highways.

Police across the region will be stepping up enforcement, as they always do at this time of year. But activists, local organizations media and law enforcement have joined forces to offer area residents and visitors a variety of safe and affordable ways to help people celebrate, and return home, safely (see links below).

As KGW-TV notes on their website “TriMet officials say all public transportation will be free after 8pm. That includes the Portland Streetcar. MAX trains will run until 3am.” Bars throughout Old Town will be offering $20 taxi coupons. These will also be available from police officers and security guards patrolling in the Old Town area.

From his hospital bed a Portland man gave a statement to police this week in which he acknowledged drinking, drag racing and a fatal crash that killed a cyclist in Gresham, according to The Oregonian.

The man “told police he had two alcoholic drinks before racing a random driver in Gresham early Sunday (October 8), crashing into another car, then hitting and killing another man riding his bike” the paper reported, citing court records. It notes that despite the 23-year-old man’s claim to have had only two drinks “his blood alcohol content was still above the legal limit when his blood was tested 17 hours after the crash.”

While drag racing another vehicle the man also wound up driving on the wrong side of Southeast Stark Street. According to a witness cited by the paper, the fatal crash involving the cyclist took place when the driver “went into oncoming traffic, hit a Ford Escape, spun around” and struck the bike rider.

A recent article – written by a doctor – in the New York Times states it bluntly: “The mix of drinking and driving is as dangerous to adolescents as you think it is, dangerous when adolescents are driving, and also dangerous when they are the passengers.” The piece goes on to note that “alcohol is a factor in half of the deaths of people under 21 from motor vehicle crashes.” The article also notes that alcohol-related traffic accident deaths among teens are roughly evenly distributed between drivers and passengers.

In one sense this is not news, but at a broader level it is good to be reminded of how serious an issue drunk driving still is, despite decades of public awareness campaigns. That it should still be a factor in so many teen deaths is perhaps a bit surprising a generation after the drinking age was raised to 21 throughout the country.

According to the newspaper parental example remains one of the most powerful factors in determining young people’s attitudes toward drinking and driving. “What parents do – the way they drink and whether they drink at all – is more important than what they might say about alcohol,” the Times notes. Studies have found that peer pressure also remains a serious issue: teens are much more likely to binge drink if they are hanging around with other people their own age who are doing the same thing. Oregon, like every state, has strict laws governing both drunk driving (ORS 813.010) and the broader category of reckless driving that often accompanies it (ORS 811.140). The possibility of serious consequences including injuries to children and wrongful deaths is one of the things that makes drinking and driving such a serious matter.

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 a bid to raise safety awareness this holiday season, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has declared December to be “3D Month”, a term which, according to Bend TV station KTVZ, is shorthand for “Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Month.” Or, as the station’s web headline succinctly puts it: “Reminder: Recreational pot legal, DUII is not.”

The article quotes the head of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on DUII noting that “drivers have a responsibility to drive sober and to not use imparing substances… we want to keep people from making a poor choice that harms themselves and others.”

From a legal perspective the key phrase here is “imparing substances.” DUII in Oregon is covered by Chapter 813 of the Oregon Revised Statutes. Section 813.010 defines the offense as operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of “0.08 percent or more” or while “under the influence of… a controlled substance or an inhalant or” any combination of those three things. Put another way, from a legal perspective the question is not so much what you have consumed but whether it affects our ability to drive a car or truck. If it does (and pot definitely falls into that category) then it makes you subject to DUII penalties even if alcohol as such is not involved.

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.”

An article published this week in the New York Times outlines what many of us have long suspected: distracted driving, the paper writes, “by just about any measure, appears to be getting worse. Americans confess in surveys that they are still texting while driving, as well as using Facebook and Snapchat and taking selfies. Road fatalities, which had fallen for years, are now rising sharply, up roughly 8 percent in 2015 over the previous year, according to preliminary estimates.”

It quotes the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration saying “radical change requires radical ideas,” and then goes on to offer some striking examples. The most unique, proposed by legislators in New York “is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of a Breathalyzer – a roadside test called the Textalyzer.”

As the Times outlines, an officer would collect phones from drivers and passengers and use the device “to tap into (each phone’s) operating system to check for recent activity.” The answers provided by the machine would determine not only whether the driver had been texting but also whether he or she had violated New York’s hands-free laws (the oldest in the nation) in any other way. “Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer,” the paper reports.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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