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.
Regardless of who the authorities ultimately determine is at fault in this accident, the unnamed child and his/her parents have a clear legal case against one or both of the adult drivers (or their estates). Oregon’s reckless driving statute (ORS 811.140) in this case supplements other laws that require adults to take due care whenever children either are, or may be reasonably supposed to be, present. Courts, quite properly, take issues of adult responsibility especially seriously where children are concerned.
Broader issues, however, are also raised by the fact that this case involves a motorcycle accident in which the motorcyclist has a child as a passenger. Readers may be surprised to learn that when it comes to motorcycles “there are no requirements for passenger age or size in Oregon,” according to Team Oregon, a safety-focused website run jointly by the state department of transportation and the University of Oregon. It continues: “Operators should use good judgement. Passengers should be large enough to reach the footrests, strong enough to hold on securely and mature enough to follow directions and behave predictably.”
This obviously leaves a lot of scope for interpretation. It stands in stark contrast to the detailed laws governing how children can ride in cars.
That said , it is essential to remember that a lack of motorcycle-specific child safety laws here in Oregon does not exempt adults from exercising proper care and caution when carrying a child as a passenger. Indeed, there is a strong argument to be made that this week’s Multnomah County accident should lead to the legislature to reconsider how the law approaches the issue of minors riding as passengers on motorcycles. As a Portland attorney with a long-standing focus on injuries to children this is something I hope our legislators will consider.
The Oregonian: Portland man dies, 2 hurt in Fairview motorcycle crash
ORS 814.325: Carrying passenger on motorcycle
Team Oregon: Motorcycle Rider Training and Skill Development
Oregon Department of Transportation: Safety belts and child seats