Articles Posted in Drunk Driving

If there is any night of the year when extra-cautious driving and attention to pedestrian safety are required in residential areas it is Halloween. Small children are everywhere, running up and down streets, many of them dressed in dark costumes as the sun sets. The news spreading around the northwest today is of a terrible accident that appears to have brought this fact home in the worst possible way.

According to The Oregonian “two girls, ages 6 and 7, and a 20-year-old woman were in critical condition with life-threatening injuries on Saturday morning, police said. The woman was reportedly put into a medically-induced coma.” This was the tragic outcome of an apparent Washington drunk or impaired driving incident in which “a Ford Mustang… jumped the curb and struck a group of trick-or-treaters on a Vancouver sidewalk Friday night.” The newspaper adds that, according to police, the man driving the car “was likely speeding and driving impaired.” A 33-year-old woman also suffered broken bones in the Washington car accident.

Police say the driver, a 47-year-old male, only came to a stop after hitting a pole. He is reported to have only minor injuries. The paper reports that toxicology tests are still being conducted but the police already suspect that drugs may also have been a factor in the driver’s impairment.

Citing new figures published by the Centers for Disease Control, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that “excessive drinking accounts for one in every nine deaths in Oregon.” That figure, it adds, puts our state on the wrong side of the national average, which is one death in 10.

Between drunk driving and other well-known alcohol-related risks the figure is, perhaps, less surprising than it might seem. It is worth noting that the study focused on the broad health risks associated with alcohol. While drunk driving was included it was not the sole focus of the research. According to OPB “The study looked at binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more for men, as well as heavy drinking, which is eight drinks a week for a woman and 15 for a man.”

The focus on binge drinking also highlights the importance of strict enforcement of Oregon dram shop laws. These extend responsibility for injuries and damage caused by a drunk person to bars, taverns and any business that sells alcohol. The dram shop rules are a reminder that cutting off someone who is drinking too much is everyone’s responsibility, not just that of the drinker himself or his companions.

Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in two states, including Washington State, and Oregon is among the ever-increasing number of states that permit marijuana use for medical purposes.

As legal acceptance of the drug grows it was, perhaps, inevitable that, in the words of USA Today, “it’s looking like dope is playing a larger role as a cause of fatal traffic accidents.” Put another way: advocates of legalization have long argued that marijuana is no worse for you than alcohol. If, for the sake of argument, we accept that premise then it clearly follows that driving while high should be treated with the same degree of seriousness as driving while drunk.

The evidence is not merely anecdotal. According to USA Today, a recent study by Columbia University found that “of nearly 24,000 driving fatalities… marijuana contributed to 12% of traffic deaths in 2010, tripled from a decade earlier.” The newspaper reports that a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study estimated that “4% of drivers were high during the day and more than 6% at night.” The majority of high drivers were under age 25 – an age group that already has proportionately high levels of both drunk driving and distracted driving, both here in Oregon and elsewhere around the country.

An article in Wednesday’s Oregonian raised an interesting question: how many Portlanders are aware that traffic enforcement does not take place overnight? According to the newspaper the city’s last budget cut police funding and, as a result, “the (traffic enforcement) bureau lost five full-time officer positions, and so eliminated the 9 pm to 7 am traffic shift Wednesday through Saturday.”

What this means in practice is that there are fewer officers available to enforce Oregon drunk driving laws. The newspaper quotes Portland police chief Mike Reese saying: “Traffic officers are committed to saving lives. They hold people accountable when they break the law… It’s not easy work. DUII investigations require skill to make arrests prosecutable.” The chief is asking the City Council for $300,000 in additional funds to restore four of the five overnight officer positions that have been lost.

While there are no available statistics looking at how fatal Oregon car crashes are distributed throughout the day, the newspaper notes that Washington State does keep such records. North of the Columbia River “60 percent of all fatal crashes occur between 7 pm and 5 am,” according to a Portland police spokesman cited by the newspaper. There is no reason to suppose that the pattern is not at least broadly similar here in Oregon.

In Salem today the Senate Judiciary Committee sent to the full Senate an important bill that could change the way Oregon drunk driving cases are decided. According to The Oregonian the legislation “would no longer require everyone on diversion for drunken or drugged driving to install… interlock devices, which force drivers to blow into a breathalyzer that shows they haven’t been drinking before their car will start.” According to the newspaper “about 10,000 people a year are placed on diversion for the first-time offenses of driving while intoxicated, and about 70 percent never commit another offense.”

At issue are that recidivism rate and a debate about how closely practice here in Oregon should resemble that in other states.

Proponents of the bill note that for many people DUII is a one-time offense. “My experience says that the vast majority of the individuals are in the system once and only once,” the paper quotes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Floyd Prozanski saying. The counter-argument, spearheaded by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is that “many offenders repeatedly drive drunk before they’re caught for the first time” the newspaper reports. It cites MADD’s legislative director, Frank Harris, accusing the legislature of “playing some risky business with public safety.”

Two former Portland-area prosecutors made headlines in The Oregonian this week with their advocacy of marijuana legalization. According to the newspaper Norm Frink and Mark McDonnell both believe that legalization is inevitable and, as a result, are trying to focus public attention on getting the details right.

“This is just a political fact in Oregon, even if some people don’t want to admit it,” the newspaper quoted Frink saying. “As a result,” the paper went on to note, “Frink and McDonnell, who headed the district attorney’s drug unit before retiring, on Tuesday announced that they wanted legislators to refer a marijuana legalization measure to voters in November.” The key to their idea is combining a voter referendum with legislative action. Oregonians would be asked to approve marijuana for personal use, but would charge the legislature with working out the details before the new law went into effect. “The two want to put off allowing legal possession of marijuana until after the legislature figures out how to set up a regulatory system,” The Oregonian reports.

The experience of Washington and Colorado would appear to validate this idea. When the two states became the first to make the possession and use of marijuana legal for personal recreational use the result was an immediate legal conundrum. At the most basic level, legalization puts state law in conflict with the federal government, but there are a number of equally serious – and in some ways more immediate – issues. Take drunk driving, for example. It ought to be relatively easy to agree that impaired driving brought on by pot use is just as dangerous as driving while drunk. Any state legalizing marijuana, however, will need to figure out ways to measure and assess the drug as part of a drunk driving arrest: what level of marijuana impairment crosses a safety line? What is the best and most efficiently to measure it? How should the use of marijuana and alcohol together be treated (presumably the two in combination could cross an impairment threshold at a point when neither, by itself, does so)?

With Seattle in the Super Bowl this weekend excitement surrounding the Big Game is even higher than usual here in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, increased excitement can often lead to overindulgence, and local and federal officials alike warn that Super Bowl weekend can be a dangerous time to be on the road.

According to a news release issued earlier today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “on Super Bowl Sunday 2012 alone, 38 percent of fatalities from motor vehicle crashes have been connected to drunk driving, compared to 30 percent on an average weekend.” The NHTSA has partnered with the NFL and the Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management (TEAM) Coalition to urge fans to be careful and drink responsibly wherever they choose to watch this Sunday’s game.

If self-control is not sufficient to prevent Oregon drunk driving, everyone should also be aware that police will be out in force across Portland this weekend. “The Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon State Police are teaming up on Sunday in a crackdown on drunken drivers. Their message: ‘Think before you drink.’ If you do, arrange for safe transportation to Super Bowl activities,” according to a report in The Oregonian.

An item posted late last night on The Oregonian’s website offers details of a serious Washington bicycle accident involving a teenage rider in which a motorist faces assault charges and, potentially, drunk driving charges as well.

The paper, citing the Everett Herald, reports that a 52-year-old Everett man driving a pick-up truck “allegedly struck a teenage cyclist, launching the boy off a 30-foot overpass… the crash caused the victim, 16, to fall about 20 feet onto a hillside, police said. His body then tumbled an additional 10 feet down into the street.” The paper reports that the boy’s injuries include a possible broken neck – meaning that, while they are not, according to the paper, life-threatening, they could be life-altering for both him and his entire family.

The pick-up truck driver “told police he had been drinking beer or wine a few hours before the crash and believed he suffered a seizure.” The paper reports that when he was arrested at the scene the suspect “had trouble standing and could not easily move his hands. Officers said the suspect slurred his speech and had bloodshot eyes.” Bail for the suspect was set at $25,000, the paper reports.

An article in today’s Oregonian (it was published online last night) details the early discussions in Salem about legislation that would dramatically alter where and how liquor is sold here in Oregon. It is a potentially complex issue, one made no simpler by the potential Oregon dram shop law issues raised by the bill.

According to the newspaper: “Under a so-called “hybrid” plan… the state would maintain its monopoly control over liquor but would allow sales in large grocery chains. Smaller state-licensed liquor stores would remain, and merchants would be allowed to set their own prices above a stipulated floor.”

The Oregonian adds that if the plan, which is being proposed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, becomes law it “would represent the biggest shale-up of Oregon’s liquor delivery system since Prohibition ended 80 years ago.” The paper notes that there are other liquor law reform proposals under discussion in Salem this winter, including “a possible ballot measure that would take the state out of the liquor sales business and hand it over to the private sector.”

As we enter the New Year’s holiday period let me add my voice to the many out there reminding everyone to be safe and act responsibly tonight and tomorrow.

Throughout the country – perhaps even the world – New Year’s Eve and the days surrounding it have a reputation for being a particularly dangerous time to be on the roads. People overindulge and then get behind the wheel – sometimes consciously, more often simply without thinking clearly. The results are a danger not only to themselves and their passengers but also to everyone else on the road.

According to the Oregon State Police, during last year’s 102-hour ‘holiday reporting period’ (6pm on December 28 through midnight on January 1) “12 people died in four separate fatal traffic crashes on Oregon roads… The 12 fatalities, including 9 deaths in (a) December 30 bush crash, equals the highest number reported previously two different years – 1998 and 1999, during this holiday period since 1970 when ODOT began to gather these statistics.” The fatal bus crash on Deadman’s Pass in the east of the state led to a federal investigation and, as I noted at the time, raised significant Oregon wrongful death issues.

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