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A recent announcement that two Portland glass factories may have contaminated their surrounding area is a pointed reminder of how Oregon industrial accidents need not be dramatic and violent. Sometimes a problem can develop slowly over time and be just as potentially deadly.

According to a recent article in The Oregonian, state public health officials warned earlier this month that “vegetables grown close to Bullseye Glass in Southeast Portland and Uroboros Glass in North Portland could contain harmful levels of chromium, arsenic and cadmium. They asked physicians to advise patients not to eat them until more is known.” The advice extends to homes and gardens within a half-mile of both factories. The paper notes that state environmental officials are currently conducting tests in the area around both factories. These include both the collection of soil samples in the affected area and taking urine samples from people who live in the area.

The first priority is clearly the health of the people who live near these factories, but as the investigation moves forward officials can and should look closely at how the alleged contamination was able to happen in the first place. Distressingly, the newspaper reports that the test results will “only cover cancer cases over a five year period. The factories have been there for 40.” It is important that the investigation not stop there.

As we count down the final hours of 2015 this is a good moment to remember the importance of celebrating safely. Yes, you read many warnings like this every year, but there is good reason for that. For all the effort that goes into education and prevention in the run-up to every December 31 the evening remains one of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the roads.

As noted by Eugene TV station KEZI, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has reported that fully one-third of traffic fatalities each year involve alcohol. Recognizing the dangers, and in an effort to curb Portland drunk driving, Tri-Met will again be offering free transportation tonight, starting at 8 pm.

As a number of media outlets have noted, New Years Eve traffic fatalities across the state have fallen in recent years. Indeed, two years ago there were no New Year’s traffic fatalities at all. Arrests, however, have steadily risen over the same period, indicating perhaps that if education has been less than a complete success enforcement, at least, goes a long way toward cutting down on accidents. Medford TV station KDRV is warning its viewers to expect “saturation patrols” tonight, and that advice can safely be said to apply throughout the state.

In an effort to reduce sports injuries to children the United States Soccer Federation “unveiled a series of safety initiatives aimed at addressing head injuries in the sport” earlier this month, according to a recent report in the New York Times.

The new regulations “will prohibit players 10 and younger from heading the ball and will reduce headers in practice for those from age 11 to 13,” the newspaper reports. More details of the policy are expected to be announced in the next month, but at a time of increased attention to concussions and other traumatic brain injuries throughout the sports world in general and among younger athletes particularly this announcement is a welcome development. As the newspaper notes, documents submitted as part of the case showed that “nearly 50,000 high school soccer players sustained concussions in 2010 – more players than in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined.”

“The rules will be mandatory for US Soccer youth national teams and academies, including Major League Soccer youth club teams, but the rules will only be recommendations for other soccer associations and development programs that are not under US Soccer control,” the paper reports. Still, this action by the US’ important governing body for the sport is bound to have a ripple effect even in leagues where its rule-making does not directly apply.

The criminal phase of a trial in Maryland of a former Bishop who struck and killed a bike rider while she was driving drunk is over, but the legal system may not be finished with the case. The driver, an Episcopalian Bishop at the time of the accident, “pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter, drunken driving and leaving the scene,” according to an Associated Press report posted on the ABC News website.

According to AP “her blood-alcohol was 0.22, and prosecutors said she was texting when she struck the 41-year-old cyclist… on December 27. The impact threw (him) onto (the car’s) hood and into the windshield of her car. He died of severe head trauma, leaving behind a wife and two young children.” The drunk driver left the scene of the accident for approximately 30 minutes, though she later returned, according to the AP.

Rarely does one see a case that raises so many legal issues in a single moment of irresponsibility: drunk driving, distracted driving, failing to share the road with cyclists, leaving the scene of an accident and, as a result of all that, a tragic fatality that may leave the driver open to a wrongful death action. Though the driver, who has been dismissed from her clerical position by the church, pled guilty, that acknowledgement of responsibility does little to ease the pain of the family she has torn apart. The AP quotes the victim’s sister-in-law describing the seven-year prison sentence (technically a 20-year sentence with all but seven years suspended by the judge) as “lukewarm.” It would also be interesting from a legal perspective to learn more about where the driver was drinking before the accident. Here in Oregon our Social Host and Dram Shop laws would place some liability for the accident on a host or a liquor store owner who served or sold the alcohol if the driver had appeared to be drunk at the time.

This is National Teen Driver Safety Week and to mark the occasion SafeKids, an organization I have long supported and helped promote, is doing all it can to publicize a set of simple, common sense, safety tips. Known as the “5 to Drive” the campaign aims to cut teen fatalities on our roads through simple, easy to remember, pointers:

  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Buckle Up. Every Trip.

The number of deaths statewide in Oregon car crashes has jumped by 31 percent over the last year – a worrying statistic that, according to The Oregonian, state officials are unsure how to explain.

A recent article in the newspaper reported that “in the year that ended September 23, the state tallied 312 traffic fatalities, up from 238 for the same time period the year before… Pedestrian deaths soared by 64 percent to 54.”

Exactly why this is happening is not clear. The newspaper reports that in presenting the figures to a state senate committee in Salem, officials from the Oregon Department of Transportation called the numbers “pretty sobering” and “said at the hearing that the usual factors – speeding, no seatbelts, drunken and distracted driving – had something to do with the increase, but (the officials) said they’re still looking for solutions.” The Oregonian quotes one ODOT official telling the committee: “There’s no single factor, which means there’s no silver bullet.”

The sad news last week that a three-year-old boy in Idaho was found dead in his family car is a timely and tragic reminder of something I highlight nearly every summer: the danger that sealed cars pose for small children.

According to the Associated Press the boy “apparently wandered outside and climbed into a hot car with two family dogs.” Both the boy and the pets died. The case is especially noteworthy because the news agency says local authorities investigating the case “believe the child headed out with the dogs and all three of them climbed into the car. The boy was not locked in the vehicle.” This is important because it reminds us that unlocked cars to which a child has access can be just as dangerous as cars in which a child has been locked by accident.

According to SafeKids, an organization I have long supported and promoted, child deaths in hot vehicles are a serious problem. “Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children,” the organization notes on its website (see link below). “On average, every 8 days a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle.”

An article this week in USA Today outlines a growing movement around the country toward integrating bicycles into traffic patterns in a substantive way. The idea, the newspaper says, is to reduce bicycle accidents and create” safer roadways for non-motorists.”

“More and more cities across the nation, including 712 jurisdictions across 32 states, have been moving toward implementing “Complete Streets” policies, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition. These policies are meant to make streets more accessible for commuters of all types, as opposed to simply motorists,” the newspaper reports.

In practice, what this often means is the construction of protected bike lanes. USA Today notes that in Seattle alone almost 1000 on-street parking spaces have been eliminated in favor of bike lanes over the last four years. A bike lane separated from traffic by a median is obviously far, far safer than simply painting a bike lane line down the side of an existing road. As with most public policy decisions, however, this one involves trade-offs, and as USA Today writes the move toward better, safer bike lanes often leads “to a heated fight for curb space, as parking spaces are taken out in favor of bike lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian walkways, and even parklets, small parks built by extending existing sidewalks into neighboring parking spaces.”

A proposal to build a protected bike lane to and through downtown Klamath Falls received a detailed write-up last week in the Herald & News newspaper. While bike lanes are often portrayed mainly as a safety measure – a way to cut down on potentially fatal bicycle accidents – the study cited by the paper makes a compelling argument that protected bike lanes also offer a variety of economic benefits.

The study was prepared by two Oregon Institute of Technology students in cooperation with a member of the Klamath Falls City Council and a team from the Sky Lakes Wellness Center.

Citing the experience of cities as diverse as New York, San Francisco and Portland the study’s authors say the installation of protected bike lanes has led to “an increase in property values, rents, fewer vacant buildings, as well as fewer automobile and bicycle accidents… additionally, a protected bike lane will help connect neighborhoods to downtown, encouraging more people to go downtown and increase the possibility for more business and new businesses.” It noted that cities that have built the lanes have seen property values along and near the lanes rise by 11 percent.

A newly announced measure in New York designed to make city trucks safer and to prevent fatal truck accidents is worthy of examination by our city government here in Portland and perhaps even by the Oregon legislature as well. According to Gothamist, a NYC-focused website, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that “around 240 of the city’s trucks will soon be outfitted with protective side guards to protect pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.”

“The guards, which span the side of the truck from the front to the rear wheel, are intended to protect anyone unfortunate enough to be hit by a truck from becoming trapped underneath it,” according to the article. A quick web search turns up photos of many municipal trucks around the country sporting the guardrails.

New York’s initial measure is relatively limited – involving only 240 out of more than 4700 city-owned trucks that could be fitted with the gear – but as a test project it feels like an excellent start. The article notes that “in the UK, side guards are credited with reducing fatalities and severe injuries in side impacts by 61 percent for bicyclists and 20 percent for pedestrians.”

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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