Articles Posted in Pedestrian Accidents

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.

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.

One of the deadliest stretches of road in our city will see radical changes beginning today. According to The Oregonian automated speed cameras “will be activated along the 3/4 –mile stretch of Southeast Division Street between 148th and 162nd avenues.” This comes just four days after the city council voted to lower the speed limit along a broader stretch of the road, running from Southeast 87th Avenue to 154th Avenue.

While the speed limit cameras have been in the works for some time (a state law approving their use was passed in 2015) the choice of Southeast Division as the site for one of the first sets installed is evidence of how much of a problem this stretch of road has become. Last week The Oregonian quoted Dan Saltzman, the City Commissioner who oversees the Portland Transportation Bureau, referring to Southeast Division as “a death corridor.” The newspaper noted that of Portland’s 44 traffic fatalities last year five took place on this one stretch of road. The 2016 tally of fatal Portland auto accidents was the highest since 2003, and the concentration of so many deaths in such a small area made a strong case for action.

According to KGW the city transportation division “used a little-known state law to enable the Portland City Commission to quickly lower the speed limit. Commissioners used their emergency safety authority to reduce the speed limit with Thursday’s vote.” Normally it is state officials who control the setting and changing of speed limits. The move drops the speed limit in the area from 35 mph to 30 mph, but it is only effective for 120 days. Saltzman and other city officials said the statistics along Southeast Division cried out for immediate action. The city government hopes state officials will move to make the new lower limit permanent before the four-month measure expires and are preparing to file required paperwork requesting the change.

Word that a recent Vision Zero enforcement effort yielded more than 40 citations in just two hours is a reminder both of the program’s importance and of the larger role that our laws and courts play in ensuring the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists.

According to the advocacy organization Bike Portland “the Portland Police Bureau wrote 43 citations (for 61 separate violations) and handed out 23 written warnings… between 6:00 and 8:00 pm on Southeast Hawthorne Blvd between 12th and Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.” As the organization notes, this is a busy area, yet its car-focused traffic design ”hasn’t changed in decades.” It added that the Vision Zero enforcement action took place just a few blocks from the spot where a 15-year-old was killed last August while trying to cross the street.

Vision Zero is an initiative underway in Portland and a number of other cities with the goal of eliminating pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. As bike Portland notes: “unless we stop normalizing dangerous behaviors, introduce more safety regulations on car owners and redesign our streets to encourage safer behavior, this game of cat-and-mouse between police and road users will continue.”

Today is back to school day here in Portland and that means that in many neighborhoods the streets and sidewalks are going to filled with kids headed to school in the morning and home or to after-school activities each afternoon. Coming one week after a 15-year-old was killed while crossing a city street this is a time to reflect on what we can all do to help keep kids safe.

According to a report by TV station KATU, the fatal crosswalk accident took place earlier this month at the corner of Southeast Hawthorne and 43rd. The 15-year-old girl was hit by a 20-year-old driver who “was passing other cars, reaching upwards of 60 mph” before the fatal accident. The girl’s friends and family came together last Friday for a memorial bike ride in her honor that began on Salmon Street, stopped at City Hall and ended at the accident site. “The protestors, specifically, have taken issue with Vision Zero, Portland’s initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate traffic deaths,” KATU wrote about the memorial ride. “Critics argue the initiative hasn’t done much except outline a goal.”

With the accident freshly in mind The Oregonian offered some useful reminders concerning back-to-school safety. The newspaper notes that there are no statewide regulations requiring school zones to be identified in a consistent manner. That creates a special responsibility for drivers to be aware of their surroundings, since it isn’t always immediately clear that one is around a school, especially when in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city. The paper notes that only 30 percent of kids arrive at school in a family car and 22 percent ride a school bus. That leaves about one-third of all students walking to school while another 10 percent ride bikes.

Pedestrian deaths around the country rose sharply last year, according to data compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association and recently published by CityLab, a blog that is part of The Atlantic magazine. The news is troubling, and perhaps even a little counter-intuitive and should prompt officials at every level to look more closely with how we design our roads and streets.

The group “estimates that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic increased 10 percent from 2014 to 2015 in the US. That number, based on preliminary data reported by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, is in line with a longer-term trend: From 2009 to 2014, pedestrian fatalities increased by 19 percent, even as total traffic deaths declined over that same period.”

According to the GHSA the highest pedestrian fatality rate is 3.55 per 100,000 people in New Mexico. Minnesota is the safest state for pedestrians with only 0.27 fatalities per 100,000. Oregon, at 1.44, comes in a little better than the national average of 1.53 while Washington State is significantly better at 1.06. (all figures are for 2014)

Today the federal government is announcing a partnership with Google aimed at preventing accidents at railroad crossings, according to the New York Times. The newspaper reports that the Federal Railroad Administration will work with the tech giant “to provide the locations of all grade crossings” and make them available on Google’s maps.

The initiative follows “a sharp increase in the number of rail crossing accidents last year,” according to the Times. “Last year, 270 people died in highway-rail collisions, up from 232 the previous year, and 843 people were injured, according to federal safety statistics… Grade crossing accidents are the second-highest cause of rail fatalities after trespassing accidents, which killed 533 people last year.”

The scope of the project, however, is vast, which may be part of the reason why there is no target date for its completion. According to the Times there are well over 200,000 grade crossings nationwide. By pinpointing those locations in the mapping software that runs phones, GPS units and car navigation systems the company hopes, initially, to make it clearer where the danger spots lie. Over time it should eventually be possible to include information warning about oncoming trains in real time. According to the Times the FRA is also reaching out to Apple, MapQuest, TomTom and Garmin with proposals for similar programs.

An article last week in The Oregonian spotlighted efforts to improve pedestrian safety and prevent pedestrian and car accidents in the areas east of Interstate 205. According to the newspaper, in the last year the city has embarked on a $1.75 million program “to build 17 beacons at dangerous pedestrian safety crossings.”

The article quotes State Representative Shemia Fagan, who it describes as the driving force behind the project, calling the beacons an important safety improvement in a part of our city where news all too frequently is “sad, or scary or downright tragic.”

In the year since Fagan began pushing the issue only five of the planned 17 beacons have been installed (the first of the two links to The Oregonian provided below will also take you to a map which shows both where beacons have already been installed and locations where they are planned). The locations, which the newspaper describes as “problematic intersections”: “were identified and prioritized through the East Portland In Motion plan… a community process approved in 2012.” Funding for the project comes from the state.

The Oregonian is reporting that an arrest has been made in one of the most egregious Oregon distracted driving cases in recent memory. According to the newspaper, a 23-year-old Gresham woman is now under arrest after “taking video on her cellphone when she drove into three teens in a crosswalk outside their high school.”

Further investigation showed that at the time of the Oregon pedestrian accident the driver did not have her hands on the steering wheel. Perhaps even more shocking is the revelation that the driver appears to have been taking a video of her own son at the time of the accident. “A 19-second-long clip… shows the 23-year-old with the device in her left hand and making gestures at her son in the back seat with her right hand just before she hits three girls outside Centennial High School on Jan. 15,” the paper reports.

According to the newspaper “the three injured girls, between 14 and 15-years-old, survived the crash” though all three were seriously injured. The accident took place in January and The Oregonian reports that the driver remained at the scene of the accident and cooperated with law enforcement. She has now been charged with “third-degree assault, reckless endangering and reckless driving.” Witnesses reported the driver was traveling at nearly 40 miles per hour when she struck the three pedestrians.

Last week Portland suffered yet another tragic and preventable crosswalk death. The fact that this fatal Oregon traffic accident also involved a truck making a turn merely highlights the ongoing issue of pedestrian safety that I have written about so frequently.

According to The Oregonian a 61-year-old man from Northeast Portland “was using his three-wheeled wheelchair scooter in a marked crosswalk when a turning truck struck him.” It quotes a Portland police spokesman confirming that as the victim “crossed with the ‘walk’ signal, an eastbound truck turned south onto Naito Parkway and struck him.” The newspaper reports that the man died the following day at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. The truck driver is reported to be cooperating with police.

There are a number of potential legal issues raised by this Oregon traffic accident. As is often the case in a death under these circumstances the possibility of a wrongful death action exists. It is worth considering whether there is a product liability issue involved in this incident. Considering the sheer number of automotive product recalls over the last year it is worth exploring whether the truck involved in this fatal Oregon traffic accident may have been – or ought to be – subject to a recall.

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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