Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accidents

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.

A crash last week that, according to local TV station KOIN involved “the Portland streetcar and multiple vehicles which sent one person to the hospital… and shut down part of SE Grand Avenue” is bringing Oregon’s municipal liability laws into focus for many people.

KOIN reports that “three vehicles were wrecked in the crash, which also caused the streetcar to get knocked off its tracks. According to witnesses, a truck collided with the streetcar and then was pushed along by it – hitting two other cars, one of which was parked… Guardrails, streetlight and electric poles were also taken out by the streetcar. One of the poles involved cut power to A and B loops on the eastside.” The Oregonian reports that “the person injured was inside a car when it was hit by the streetcar. That person is expected to survive. There were 11 people on the streetcar, including the operator, and none was seriously injured.” One additional person from one of the autos went “to the hospital on their own accord.”

The first thing to be said about this is that we should all be happy that so few people were injured, relatively speaking. This is clearly one of those situations where things could have been much, much worse. That, however, does not change the fact that serious questions need to be asked – and potentially examined in court – about how the city got into this situation in the first place.

Over the last five years I have written about the danger posed by Takata airbags on more than half a dozen occasions. Recently, an article in the Washington Post brought the issue back into focus.

As the newspaper chillingly puts it: “ten years after the biggest safety recall in US history began, Honda says there are more than 60,000 vehicles on the nation’s roads equipped with what experts have called a ‘ticking time bomb’”: defective air bags. As the Post explains, the bags were installed in “37 million vehicles built by 19 automakers. At least 22 people worldwide have been killed and hundreds more permanently disfigured when the airbags that deployed to protect them instead exploded and sprayed shrapnel.”

The company that manufactured these deadly air bags, a Japanese firm called Takata, was once one of the largest car parts suppliers on earth. In the years since the scandal emerged it has acknowledged that it knew about the dangers of its air bags for years before publicly acknowledging them and faced a $1 billion fine from the US Justice Department. Three of the company’s top executives face federal indictments here in the US but have not been extradited from their native Japan.

The speed limit reductions in most of Portland’s residential areas that were approved by the city council early this year have taken effect across Portland. As I wrote at the time of the council vote this initiative – covering almost 70 percent of Portland’s streets and roads – is a key element of Vision Zero, the city’s effort to eliminate pedestrian traffic deaths.

A more recent move by the council, however, is a reminder of two key points. First, that Vision Zero is a flexible, constantly evolving initiative and not just a single set of plans and actions, and, second, that it is designed to apply city-wide: in commercial as well as residential areas.

Until now Vision Zero’s speed limit changes have focused on residential areas. Earlier this month, however, “Portland approved an emergency plan… to reduce by 5 mph the speed limit (from 35mph to 30mph) on a more than 50 block stretch of Stark Street in Southeast Portland,” according to The Oregonian. Noting that this particular stretch of Stark “has long been an area of concern,” the newspaper adds that “two of the city’s 10 traffic fatalities this year happened between 109thand 162ndAvenues on Stark.”

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.

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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