Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accidents

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.

A recent analysis by NPR News is drawing attention to a traffic safety paradox. Pedestrian deaths nationwide are at near-record high levels and the reason may partly be because of advances in auto safety.

“After two years of marked increases, the number of pedestrian fatalities in the US is holding steady with nearly 6,000 pedestrians killed in 2017, according to estimates from the Governors Highway Safety Association.” NPR writes that these numbers, are “tapering off” over the last year or so but remain at a near 25-year high. Moreover, these high numbers come “as deaths from other types of traffic fatalities are dropping,” a situation that analysts attribute to improved vehicle safety technology. These, NPR writes, “make crashes safer for people inside cars – but just as deadly for pedestrians.”

We all know that cars are far safer than they were a generation or two ago. Better construction, anti-lock braking systems, air bags, more advanced seat belts and better child seats (along with laws requiring drivers and passengers to use them) have all made surviving a crash far more likely. But outside the car things are very different. Cyclists are far more likely to wear helmets than they were 20 or 30 years ago, but in the case of a serious crash involving a bike and a car that may not make much difference. Pedestrians, as NPR notes, are just as likely as they have always been to die or suffer serious injury when hit by a car.

Lawsuits filed in Tennessee and South Carolina against a guardrail manufacturer whose products are used throughout the country are drawing attention to a potential hazard on highways nationwide. The different reactions of the states where the suits were filed, however, also requires our attention because of the potential legal issues it may create in the months and years to come.

According to a recent article in Claims Journal the lawsuits “accuse the Omaha, Nebraska based Lindsey Corporation of negligence in the design of X-LITE guardrails. Instead of telescoping to absorb impact when vehicles hit them, the guardrails pierced through vehicles, killing one woman and injuring another so severely she had to have a leg amputated, according to the complaints.”

Though Claims Journal reports that the company maintains “that their guardrails still meet federal guidelines” it’s obvious that Lindsey faces serious legal consequences for making and selling a product that many users now believe is defective. But the different responses from Tennessee and South Carolina also deserve our attention. According to Claims Journal “scrutiny of the guardrails has prompted Tennessee and other states to remove them from their roadways, but South Carolina transportation officials said they would leave the rails in place until they are damaged or outlive their lifespan.”

Washington’s distracted driving law, formally known as the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUIE) Act has been in effect since July. Many state residents, however, may only see it really take effect this week. A six month grace period that has been part of the law’s implementation is ending, according to a recent article in The Seattle Times.

The paper reports that the grace period was not mandatory, meaning that “some law-enforcement agencies have been ticketing offenders for months… (while) others issued warnings to educate drivers about the law.”

Fines under the Washington law are somewhat lower than those in Oregon: $136 (as opposed to $260) for a first offense and $234 for a second infraction within five years (in Oregon it’s $435).

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 death of a 13-year-old girl last week in southern Oregon’s Jackson County should prompt a broader discussion about how we keep children safe as they wait for school buses, especially in rural areas.

As detailed by The Oregonian, the girl was waiting for the school bus at the end of her family’s driveway “on a rural Jackson County road… when she was struck by a passing vehicle, something attached to it or the vehicle’s load.” A search is on for the driver, whom police say may not have even been aware of having struck the child. The fact that so many questions remain unanswered about how the girl was hit, and even at a more basic level what hit her, indicates that law enforcement and school officials still have much work to do. But those essential tasks should not cause police, school officials and the wider community to miss addressing another critical question raised by this child’s death: was standing at the end of her driveway a safe and well-thought-out way for her to be waiting for a ride to school?

In an era of near-constant educational cutbacks we should start by asking whether it was really necessary to have a lone girl standing where her family’s driveway met the road? Was this the only way for the bus to pick her up, or was it just the most efficient way to plan the bus driver’s route? When those bus routes were planned how much thought was given to student safety? As winter approaches and the days continue to get shorter this is a particularly pressing question. According to The Oregonian last week’s fatal accident took place before 7:30 am (the time at which the child’s body was discovered by a passer-by). Over the next four months it will not be unusual for children to be waiting for their school buses in the dark or in half-light and for them to be walking home from their bus stops in the afternoon dusk. Such considerations need to be at the forefront of route planning, and cannot merely be an afterthought.

Families of the people killed and injured in a terrible accident almost exactly a year ago may soon take a first step toward justice with the announcement of an arrest in the case. According to television station KABC “the driver of a big-rig who allegedly caused a passenger bus crash that killed 13 people in 2016 near Palm Springs has been arrested in Georgia.”

As coverage of the accident in USA Today details, the driver “stopped for traffic in the far-right lane of Interstate 10 on October 23, 2016, and dozed off, authorities say. While (he) was sleeping, traffic began moving again, but his vehicle continued to block the westbound lane.” A tour bus hit the stopped semi-truck at a speed of 76 miles per hour the paper reports, citing court filings. The driver now faces “13 counts of felony manslaughter with gross negligence… 11 counts of felony reckless driving with injury and 18 counts of misdemeanor reckless driving with injury.”

Chillingly, USA Today adds: “Charging documents indicate he (the truck driver) has continued to work as a bus driver since the crash.” The paper also notes that the driver “violated federal regulations for truck drivers and falsified his driver’s log.” He had reportedly only had seven hours of “sleep opportunity” during the 24 hours preceding the crash, and “it is unlikely that he actually slept during those opportunities.”

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.

On Thursday evening, according to Bike Portland, “a quarter-mile of Portlanders lined Southwest Naito Parkway’s temporary protected bike lane” as a form of protest at plans for its removal. The temporary lane is scheduled to be removed on Monday, October 1, but a separate blog post from the advocacy group notes that “the city has worked up a rough engineering concept that includes a bike path and protected two-way bike lanes between Salmon Street and Harrison Street.” Regardless of how one views the bike lane proposals on Naito Parkway the fact that Portland is even having civic conversations like these is a good sign for out community.

This week’s protest comes at a moment when there is a significant amount of activity surrounding bike safety here in what is often called the country’s most bike-friendly city. But it also comes at a moment when government data is reminding all of us that despite its bike-loving reputation Portland could do much better.

Chapters 814 and 815 of Oregon’s legal code (see links below) are often presented as a reminder of the obligations cyclists have when using our roads. It is important to understand, however, that they place an even more significant level of responsibility on drivers of cars and trucks. Because the legal code considers bikes vehicles it is the responsibility of all other vehicle operators (i.e. drivers) to treat them with the same caution and respect they use around cars, trucks and motorcycles. As a widely reported government study noted last month, cycling deaths have been on the rise nationwide. The 818 cyclist deaths on our nation’s roads in 2015 (the latest year for which data is available) represented a 12 percent jump from the previous year.

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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