Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accidents

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to push the legal system to close a loophole. In the wake of a 2013 accident that left two little girls dead, Governor Kate Brown has done just that: signing a new law Thursday that clarifies the legal obligations of hit-and-run drivers.

“Anna and Abigail’s Law” is named in honor of 6 and 11-year old sisters from Forest Grove “who were struck as they played in a leaf pile” in 2013, according to an article in The Oregonian. It requires “drivers who suspect that they may have caused personal or property damage after a collision to report it to police.”

“Lawmakers pursued the change after the woman connected with felony hit-and-run in connection to the case… had her three-year probation overturned by the Oregon Court of Appeals,” according to the newspaper. At the time, Oregon law did not “require a driver to return to the scene of an accident if he or she learned someone was injured or killed after the fact. In granting (the) appeal the court also ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to establish without a reasonable doubt that (the driver) had reason to believe anyone was hurt after she ran over the leaf pile.”

The Oregonian puts it bluntly in the very first sentence of a recent article: “The number of people killed on city streets and country roads in Oregon is 13 percent higher so far this year, a death toll driven upward this summer by one of the deadliest crashes in state history.”

The single crash mentioned in that last sentence was an eight-fatality incident last month in Harney County, but, as the article goes on to detail, rather than viewing that crash as a statistical outlier police are concerned because they see it as “part of a worrisome trend this year: Multiple people dying in a single incident.” In all, the state “has seen 12 more fatal crashes than last year, but the number of people killed has increased by 37.” The article (linked below) also includes a table that dramatically illustrates how both road deaths and the number of crashes producing them has changed over the last few years. The increase in both the number of crashes and the number of deaths compared to last year is striking, as is the up-and-down (yet consistently high) nature of the numbers themselves over time.

There are a variety of reasons for this. The newspaper notes that over the last three decades the number of troopers patrolling Oregon’s roads has declined in absolute terms even as the state’s population has grown. The officers who are available focus their efforts on I-5 and other major roads and highways, despite the fact that an increasing number of fatal crashes take place on smaller roads, particularly in rural areas. A state official also tells the Oregonian that “while it’s difficult to prove, distracted driving is likely leading to more deaths and serious injuries.” This is in spite of both education campaigns and recently toughened state laws against distracted driving. And, of course, there is alcohol.

A lawsuit filed by the family of a Portland cyclist who was seriously injured last December, in the words of The Oregonian, “by a car driving 60 mph in one of Portland’s most dangerous cyclist-vehicle crossings” has filed a lawsuit targeting both the City of Portland and the State of Oregon.

The lawsuit raises questions about the responsibility not only of the driver who struck the 43-year-old Portland bike rider but also about the city and state’s failure to address what has long been recognized as an exceptionally dangerous stretch of road for bike riders. The newspaper reports that the accident took place at a point on North Greeley Avenue where “the southbound bike lane crosses an on-ramp for Interstate-5 – a section where the speed limit is 45 mph but drivers often travel 55 to 60 mph.” According to the court filing (see link in the Oregonian article below) the biker “suffered a traumatic brain injury” as well as numerous broken bones and a collapsed lung, among other injuries.

This accident took place despite the rider checking the ramp carefully. According to the paper, he saw a truck approaching but correctly judged that he had a safe amount of space to make the required cross-over. What he could not see was a car passing the truck at high speed, and failing to heed the bike lane markings.

As Oregonians and Washingtonians prepared to get away for the holiday weekend a serious drunk driving accident in Veneta, in Lane County west of Eugene, highlighted some of the potential dangers that always accompany Labor Day Weekend.

According to Roseburg TV station KPIC, “a wildland firefighter with a blood alcohol content twice the legal limit crashed her small car into a pickup stopped in a highway construction zone… on highway 126 West.” According to the station the car’s driver was the only person injured in the Oregon DUII accident despite the fact that she hit a car with such force that it set off a chain reaction, leading to a total of four vehicles being involved in the crash. The accident took place at 2am in an area where construction was taking place, and also endangered a flagger who was working on the road, the station reports.

Incidents like this are a reminder of the importance of safe driving, especially on this holiday weekend. According to KPIC the driver who allegedly caused the Eugene-area accident had recently finished a lengthy firefighting shift. Such admirable work, however, cannot excuse driving with double the legal limit of alcohol in one’s bloodstream.

Over the years I have written a lot about the way bikes, pedestrians, cars and public transport all interact on Portland’s streets. In recent weeks something new has joined this mix: e-scooters. As a technology, these have been around for several years they are now appearing around Portland in far greater numbers after the city’s Bureau of Transportation issued permits to two e-scooter rental companies at the end of last month.

According to local TV station KGW, “the introduction of e-scooters is part of the PBOT’s shared scooter pilot program, which will last through November 20. As part of the 120-day program, permitted companies will be able to offer scooters for rent. The total number of permitted scooters will be capped at 2,500… People can rent a scooter through an app and drop it off anywhere in the city when they are finished.”

That all sounds simple and straightforward enough, but, as is so often the case, the details look a lot more complicated. During its recently completed 2018 session the Oregon legislature modified a lengthy list of statutes related to e-scooters (click here for the complete list). Unfortunately, when one looks at the actual text (see links below) several sections are frustratingly vague.

Late last week The Oregonian, citing the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, reported that “a Portland man died and two others were injured when a motorcycle and car collided… in Fairview.” The accident took place late at night on Northeast Halsey Street. According to the paper, a westbound motorcycle carrying both an adult and a child “collided with an eastbound car at Halsey and Seventh streets.”

The motorcycle’s driver was pronounced dead at the scene. His passenger (whose age was not announced) was taken “to a local hospital with serious injuries. The car driver had minor injuries and was also taken to a hospital.”

Many of the details of this incident remain unclear. Notably, the media reports do not say in which lane (eastbound or westbound) took place, making it difficult at this point to speculate about who may have been at fault. Two things, however, are clear. First, the accident serves as a reminder of the special responsibilities adults have when they have children as passengers in motor vehicles, or are responsible for an accident in which a child is killed or injured. Second, this incident highlights some disturbing loopholes in Oregon’s child safety laws when it comes to motorcycles.

A recent news release from the US Department of Transportation lays for groundwork for this year’s Child Passenger Safety Week, which is scheduled to be held nationwide from September 23 to 29. The announcement (see link below) contains links to a variety of materials – everything from broadcast-ready public service spots for TV stations and the web to sample op-eds ready for submission to local newspapers.

Perhaps the most important materials, however, are the practical ones: flyers demonstrating the proper way to install a car seat and its accompanying harness or tether, checklists to help new parents make sure they have carried out every step of the process for securing their child, and posters illustrating the stages at which a child should move from a rear-facing child seat to a front-facing one and from there to a booster seat. One might have thought that after decades of educational campaigns all this would not be necessary. But, as the news release reminds us, car crashes remain a “leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13.”

With that in mind, it is also worth reminding parents and other caregivers that proper child seats are not just a good idea, they are the law. As outlined in ORS 811.210, Oregon law requires all children under the age of two to be “properly secured with a child safety system in a rear-facing position.” Children who are over age two but weigh less than 40 pounds may face forward provided they remain in an appropriate, state and federal-approved, child seat. Anyone weighing more than 40 pounds who is shorter than four feet nine inches must use a booster seat. Failure to comply with any of these laws is a Class D violation, subject to a fine of up to $500.

In many ways it is a small thing: the installation of tiny sensors on lampposts, first at a few key intersections and, later, around much of the city. But the Portland Bureau of Transportation believes that what it calls “Smart City PDX” is an essential step toward making the city safer for everyone who walks, bikes or drives a motor vehicle.

As outlined in a recent article in The Oregonian, the initiative initially will involve “installing 200 sensors along three high-crash corridors on the city’s eastside… The traffic  sensors will provide real-time 24/7 data to transportation staff, giving bureaucrats accurate information on the number of cars or pedestrians crossing a road at a given time and how fast people are driving.” This is in contrast to the city’s traditional reliance on “volunteers or infrequent traffic surveys” to collect similar information.

The Oregonian notes that the project is scheduled to last for 18 months, but it is easy to envision a situation in which this kind of data collection is expanded and becomes a regular part of the city’s planning process. Considering the number of accidents we have seen in recent years involving pedestrians and cyclists, any improvement in the data surrounding our streets is to be welcomed. The paper quotes the head of the PBOT saying that the information gathered through this project “will help city leaders ‘improve street design’ and make streets safer for all.” According to The Oregonian as of mid-June “at least 17 people have died on Portland streets in 2018.”

A recent blog post on the BikePortland website seeks to draw attention to Portland’s NW Broadway and Hoyt intersection, which the author calls “dangerous by design.” It is among the sites that BikePortland has long sought to highlight as the city continues its efforts to make one of America’s most bike-friendly cities even better.

BikePortland’s editor/publisher notes that he has been writing about the dangers posed by NW Broadway and Hoyt for several years. As May came to a close he got an email documenting a very scary incident in which a car making a right turn “tried to thread the needle between two groups of cyclists by speeding up a bit.” This forced one rider to slam on his brakes and crash into a truck (the cyclist was seen limping at the site but apparently did not require medical assistance).

As BikePortland notes “this is a very heavily-used bike route.” That would seem to make it the sort of place where drivers are particularly aware that bikes are part of their surroundings, but because of the way the intersection is laid out the intersection continues to be an especially dangerous spot. The post reminds readers that a car turning across a bike lane cannot simply put on its blinker and go. People in the bike lane have the right of way, and for a moving car to cut through groups of cyclists moving across its path is no more legal or acceptable than a driver “threading the needle” between pedestrians at a crosswalk. ORS 811.065 and ORS 811.050 specifically lay out the responsibilities of drivers when sharing the road with cyclists. The latter specifically concerns how drivers are supposed to act vis-à-vis bike lanes.

Earlier this week I wrote about the recent Portland Streetcar derailment that injured one person, damaged several cars and snarled traffic for hours. Late last night The Oregonian published comments by Portland Streetcar’s executive director that implied that no one is at fault for the accident. “It wasn’t an operator error, and it wasn’t a speeding issue,” the newspaper quoted the official saying, adding that the current focus of the investigation is on a “potential mechanical issue.”

The problem with this line of reasoning, as a matter of both law and common sense, is that mechanical issues also have causes. The officials who run the streetcar cannot evade accountability for their actions (or lack of action) by simply citing ‘mechanical issues.’

As Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.265 clearly states: “every public body is subject to civil action for its torts, and those of its officers, employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment or duties.” In plain English this means that one can’t simply dismiss a serious accident like this as a mechanical failure. People build, purchase, operate and maintain mechanical equipment, and are, in turn, responsible when it fails.

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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