The Pendleton-based East Oregonian began the New Year with an article that offered a useful reminder both of the danger large trucks pose on Oregon and Washington’s roads – especially in rural areas – and of what the government is trying to do to mitigate the problem.
The Salem-datelined piece focused on truck inspections, which it describes as “the primary tool for preventing accidents that disrupt Oregon’s highways, hospitalize thousands and leave hundreds dead each year.” Perhaps surprisingly for some readers, the newspaper draws a connection between truck safety and the Vision Zero program that has become familiar in Portland and numerous other cities around the country.
In the popular mind Vision Zero is usually associated with pedestrian safety. Obviously large trucks are a part of that, but the broader goal of the program has always been to eliminate traffic deaths completely. A point the East Oregonian makes convincingly is that doing this includes taking a close look at big rigs in rural parts of the state, not just at cars and buses in cities.
The newspaper reports that “in 2018, state specialists completed 18,549 (truck) inspections and issued more than 3500 citations and warnings… According to ODOT data the most common issues inspectors catch are improper lights and brake problems. Those account for nearly half of the violations cited by inspectors.”
Perhaps more worryingly, “driver violations severe enough to force them off the road, such as driving over the allotted 11 hours in a 24 hour period or failing to maintain a commercial driver’s license, account for 14% of all out-of-service violations.” These are the sort of things that need to concern all of us, regardless of how often the staff of highway inspection stations are able to catch them. The law may allow drivers to be behind the wheel for almost half of each day, but if their fatigue leads to reckless driving, as defined in ORS Chapter 811, they are still in violation of the law regardless of whether or not they have hit the 11-hour limit.
I have written in the past about the particular dangers trucks pose on our highways, especially well-known danger zones such as Cabbage Hill in the east of our state. It is important to understand that keeping the public safe is a group effort. Highway inspectors, local and state law enforcement and the trucking companies themselves all have a role to play in this, but so do our civil courts. The court system is often one of the few things available to ordinary Oregonians who have been injured, or whose loved ones have died, due to the reckless or negligent conduct of a truck driver or of the company which employs that driver. Too often companies demand more of truck drivers than they can safely deliver – setting delivery schedules that almost inevitably lead to trouble.
As an Oregon and Washington attorney whose practice focuses on justice for accident survivors and their families I hope everyone understands that help is available, even when it seems like the legal system is closed to them.
East Oregonian: Truck inspections crucial to ODOT’s ‘vision zero’
ORS 811: Rules of the Road for Drivers
Portland Bureau of Transportation: Vision Zero