Articles Posted in Drunk Driving

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.

As we count down the final hours of 2015 this is a good moment to remember the importance of celebrating safely. Yes, you read many warnings like this every year, but there is good reason for that. For all the effort that goes into education and prevention in the run-up to every December 31 the evening remains one of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the roads.

As noted by Eugene TV station KEZI, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has reported that fully one-third of traffic fatalities each year involve alcohol. Recognizing the dangers, and in an effort to curb Portland drunk driving, Tri-Met will again be offering free transportation tonight, starting at 8 pm.

As a number of media outlets have noted, New Years Eve traffic fatalities across the state have fallen in recent years. Indeed, two years ago there were no New Year’s traffic fatalities at all. Arrests, however, have steadily risen over the same period, indicating perhaps that if education has been less than a complete success enforcement, at least, goes a long way toward cutting down on accidents. Medford TV station KDRV is warning its viewers to expect “saturation patrols” tonight, and that advice can safely be said to apply throughout the state.

An Oregon car accident near Amity on route 99W sent a highway worker to the hospital last week. According to The Oregonian, a ‘flagger’ employed by a private company was “taken to a Portland hospital with serious injuries” after being struck by a car in the early evening. The Oregon traffic accident occurred near milepost 47 on Route 99W and closed the road to traffic for what the newspaper describes as “an extended period of time.”

The paper reports that the driver remained on the scene and cooperated with police. It also, however, reports that investigators believe “alcohol or drugs may have been a factor” in the incident and that they are considering criminal charges against the driver.

On its surface this might seem like a fairly straightforward Oregon traffic accident case. The specifics, however, raise several interesting legal questions. We would normally suppose a highway worker injured on the job to be covered by workman’s comp, but the fact that the flagger was injured by a third party – the driver – changes the situation in some ways. Most notably, if drugs or alcohol were, indeed, involved in the accident that opens the possibility of a legal claim under Oregon’s social host and dram shop laws against not only the driver but also the individual, bar or liquor store that gave or sold the driver drugs or alcohol. Because Oregon requires training in the specifics of its dram shop laws for all bartenders this sort of liability can be especially difficult to avoid.

As an article in today’s Oregonian warns, Halloween has long been a night when pedestrians and drivers alike need to exercise particular caution. This year, however, the fact that October 31 is also the evening when we move from daylight saving time back to standard time makes tonight especially dangerous.

Halloween has always been a night when everyone should be especially aware of the possibility of injuries to children. In the twilight and early evening hours small children – many wearing dark costumes – are running around residential neighborhoods all over the country. The danger of a car accident rises significantly even for the most careful of drivers. The Oregonian reports that Halloween is traditionally the third-worst day of the year for pedestrian fatalities, surpassed only by New Year’s Day and December 23.

In recent decades, however, Halloween has also emerged as an adult party night with a reputation for drinking and driving that rivals New Year’s Eve. According to today’s article “in 2012 when 54 pedestrians died in car crashes on Halloween nationwide, nearly half of those deaths involved a drunk driver.”

A Harrisburg car crash over the weekend left a 19-year-old man dead and has led to the arrest of the vehicle’s 20-year-old driver, according to The Oregonian. “Police said alcohol and drugs likely were contributing factors. There was evidence to show that the driver… was allegedly (had) over twice the legal limit of alcohol (in his bloodstream) and had used cocaine and marijuana,” the paper reports.

Citing local police, the paper reports that the driver failed to make his way around a curve on a road in Linn County causing his minivan to roll several times. Of the three passengers in the van one was ejected and thrown some 50 feet. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver and the other two passengers, both of whom are 18 years old, were treated for “non-life threatening” injuries at an area hospital.

After his release from the hospital the driver “was booked into the Linn County Jail on charges of Manslaughter I, Assault II and DUII,” the newspaper reports.

A single-vehicle Portland car accident that killed one person and injured two others spotlights both the dangers of reckless and drunk driving and its broader legal implications, even when a second car is not involved.

According to a report earlier this week in The Oregonian a 29 year old man who was riding in the back seat of an SUV died when he was thrown from the vehicle during “a fatal crash Sunday night off Northwest Skyline Boulevard.” The paper reports that “the SUV rolled down a steep embankment toward the 6600 block of Meridian Ridge Drive where it struck a house and caught fire. Neighbors were able to extinguish the fire and no one in the home was injured.” The newspaper, quoting police, says that the SUV’s 39-year-old driver remains in an area hospital in critical condition. The other passenger, a 30-year-old woman, “was treated for her injuries and released” from the hospital.

As the paper notes, “while the cause of the crash remains under investigation… (police) said it appears that alcohol and excessive speed were both contributing factors.”