Articles Posted in Car Accidents

The deaths of three teens in three separate Oregon car crashes earlier this month is leading some observers to call for a rethinking of the state’s teen driving laws, according to The Oregonian.

“In 1999 the state passed a graduated driver’s license law for people under 18, requiring a period of supervised driving and a six-month ban on having other teenagers in the car,” the newspaper notes. Over the first eight years that the law was in effect the result was a dramatic fall in the rate of fatal car crashes involving Oregon teenagers. “The number of crashes involving teen drivers plummeted 29 percent, from 6001 to 4279,” according to the newspaper.

The recent accidents, however, highlight another trend: the fact that accident rates among teens are slowly rising again, leading some analysts to wonder whether the 1999 law has reached the limits of its effectiveness. The newspaper quotes a senior official from the Oregon Department of Transportation saying “with things leveling off, the question from a legislative point of view is what’s the next step? What else can we do?” As a result, according to The Oregonian, the ODOT is urging “lawmakers to put stricter limits on when drivers under 18 can have other teens riding along.”

An article published this week in the Salem Statesman-Journal highlights an alarming fact: in this one relatively small city “between December 26 and January 15 three vehicle crashes involving pedestrians resulted in four deaths.”

The paper goes on to note that “all three crashes took place in darkness” and that “no drivers have been found to be at fault.” After so many fatal Salem pedestrian accidents in such a short period of time, however, some sort of an investigation is warranted – one that goes beyond the three individual accidents to look at broader traffic, pedestrian and biking patterns in an effort to make the city’s streets safer. The article quotes a 63-year-old South Salem resident who points out that the problem is the city’s large number of unmarked crosswalks. “At least 95 percent of cars do not even slow down, although they are required by law to stop and wait for you to cross,” he said.

The sudden rise in fatal pedestrian accidents in Salem is particularly troublesome because at the time of the first one, on December 26, the city had not witnessed a fatal pedestrian accident in over a year. The paper also notes that while fatalities are rare, accidents themselves are not. “Between December 1, 2013 and April 30, 2014 there were 22 pedestrian-related crashes in Salem that injured 25 people, according to data from the Oregon Department of Transportation” the newspaper reports.

A recent story in the Salem Statesman-Journal highlighted some critical changes the ODOT is now beginning to implement in the name of traffic safety, but did an equally good job of drawing attention to how those changes get approved.

The article focused on the September 24 death of a well-known Salem-area psychiatrist in a fatal Oregon car crash on I-5. According to the newspaper the accident took place when a vehicle traveling the interstate highway in the other direction crossed the median. The psychiatrist died at the scene. A colleague who was travelling with him died at an area hospital a few days later from injuries suffered in the crash.

The circumstances of the accident raise longer-term questions about Oregon wrongful death, and whether the fatal crash may prompt a legal action. More immediately, what made the reaction to this accident different was the outpouring of emotion from the Salem community, an outpouring which only increased when the Statesman-Journal revealed “that in the previous 10 years there had been 20 crashes along I-5 in Salem that involved vehicles crossing the center median into oncoming traffic.” The paper noted that the ODOT has plans to install simple cable-like barriers along that stretch of the highway. Cable barriers have been shown to be a relatively inexpensive way to prevent crossover crashes. The paper also discovered, however, that bureaucracy and political infighting had led to progress implementing the plan to install the barriers moving slowly at best. Indeed, a low-bidder to carry out the work was not scheduled to be selected until next February, even though, the paper reported, a decision in principle to move forward had been reached some time ago.

The non-profit National Safety Council has published an excellent tip sheet to help parents prepare teen drivers for the special challenges that come with winter.

Oregon car accidents can happen any time of the year, of course, but winter is different. As the website notes: “Winter conditions can challenge even the most experienced drivers. It is incumbent upon a parent to prepare a teen as best as possible for driving under those difficult circumstances that adverse weather brings.”

Many of these recommendations are so basic that one might overlook them, but they bear repeating: slow down, factor in more travel time to get from point A to point B so you don’t unconsciously feel a need to rush; gently test a moving car’s brakes when ice and snow are present to get a sense of road conditions; don’t use high beams when it is snowing. Don’t use the cruise control in the snow either. Keep a greater distance between vehicles than one does in easier driving conditions.

The death of a Portland bike rider on Barbur Boulevard last August has given new urgency to proposals to change the balance of cars and bikes along this important commuting artery.

As a recent article in The Oregonian outlines, an advocacy group, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, is urging the ODOT “to put a harrowing section of the high-speed boulevard on a “road diet.” Essentially the group wants a northbound auto lane removed to make space for about two miles of buffered bike lanes and pedestrian paths in both directions of the critical north-south corridor.”

As one might expect many drivers are unhappy with this plan, citing the fact that, according to The Oregonian, ODOT relies on Barbur to relieve rush-hour traffic pressure on I-5. What is different about this dispute is the fact that commuting has emerged as the focus for both sides in this debate. Unusually for these sort of debates, the question is not one of balancing roadways against recreational bikeways but, rather, of balancing the needs of different types of commuters in a city that prides itself on its bike-friendly attitude. The paper reports that “nearly 800 bicycle commuters a day” travel along the route. For the cycling community Barbur is especially important as it offers a relatively flat route through hilly Southwest Portland.

A report this week in The Oregonian is a welcome example of our legal system at work. The account of the conviction of a reckless Oregon hit and run driver who caused a two-vehicle crash in Tualatin is a reminder that the justice system can and does work for victims and our broader society alike.

According to the newspaper the 24-year-old man was arrested for causing the crash in a parking lot adjacent to Martinazzi Avenue in Tualatin last January. “Witnesses told police a man in a pick-up was driving erratically and struck another vehicle,” The Oregonian writes. “The suspect’s vehicle then hopped a curb near the roundabout at Southwest Avery Avenue and 86th Street and struck a road sign. Witnesses also said the driver didn’t stop for a red light” and that while doing all of this he narrowly missed a pedestrian.

Once arrested the suspect was charged with DUII, hit-and-run and reckless driving. Now, five and a half months later, he has been convicted, and will serve time in jail, pay a fine and lose his driving license for three years. The man was initially eligible for a diversion program but lost that status, according to the newspaper, when he was arrested again in February.

A three-vehicle Polk County, Oregon car accident over the weekend left one man dead and five people hospitalized, according to a report in The Oregonian.

The Oregon auto accident took place in the town of Dallas, about 60 miles southwest of Portland. The newspaper, quoting the Oregon State Police, reports that the sequence of events began Saturday evening when a van driven by a man from Woodburn “was heading west when it traveled across the center line and collided” with a vehicle headed in the opposite direction on State Route 22.

The driver of the eastbound vehicle was a 69-year-old Silverton man. He was pronounced dead by paramedics responding to the accident. Two other people in the car were taken to a Salem hospital with what The Oregonian describes as “critical” injuries. The driver of the van was not seriously injured in the initial crash, but was struck by a third vehicle, a westbound pickup truck, when he stopped to assess the initial accident. He was taken to the same Salem hospital as the victims in the car and is reported to be suffering from “serious injuries.” The two people in the third vehicle were treated in McMinnville for minor injuries.

The union representing Tri-Met workers has rejected proposed work rules that would have allowed bus and other transit drivers in the Portland area to work 14-hour shifts, according to a report published in The Oregonian.

The paper reports that “the union representing operators, mechanics and support staff quickly rejected the plan on Monday, saying it didn’t go far enough to address the growing problem with exhaustion.” The paper quotes a union leader saying “No human being, especially one transporting passengers through city traffic, can safely operate a bus over a 14-hour workday, day-after-day.”

The proposed work rules would “limit” drivers to a 14-hour workday and require at 10 hours off between shifts. According to the paper the proposed work plan would have applied to drivers of both buses and light-rail trains. The paper notes that “the current policy, based on service days, makes it easy for a driver to finagle extra overtime by working marathon runs.”

Figures published recently in The Oregonian paint a distressing picture of the safety situation for pedestrians here in Oregon. Citing data compiled by the Oregon Department of Transportation the paper reports that “pedestrian deaths in Oregon are up 23 percent over last year.”

With the death in late October of a 58-year-old man on the Hawthorne Bridge the total number of Oregon pedestrian deaths for 2012 reached 48. “That matches the total for all of 2011,” the paper reports, citing an ODOT spokeswoman. The victim of this latest fatal Oregon car accident involving a pedestrian was struck by an eastbound car as he crossed from one side of the bridge to the other. He had been using the bridge to watch his wife compete in a rowing race.

The sharp rise in pedestrian fatalities is especially surprising since bicycle-related deaths have fallen over the same period. The Oregonian reports that bicycle deaths have dropped 41 percent: seven this year compared to 12 during the same period in 2011.

This week – from now until Saturday September 22 – is National Child Passenger Safety Week. It is an excellent time to remind ourselves of the importance of preventing injuries to children in Oregon auto accidents.

Here in Oregon the public awareness events for National Child Passenger Safety Week are being led by SafeKids Oregon. The SafeKids webpage devoted to the week and its related activities opens with some stark statistics that put the problem into perspective:

“Motor vehicle traffic crashes,” it notes, “remain the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 12 years old.” It also notes that fully 75% of children riding in American cars “are not as secure as they should be because their car seats are not being used correctly.”

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