DMV’s “Four Strikes” Program
“How many points will I get from DMV if I plead guilty to this ticket?”
This is a common question for judges in traffic court, and the answer is simple enough: “None, because Oregon DMV doesn’t use a point system.”
Many states, however, have adopted point systems. In California, for example, a conviction for a minor traffic offense is worth one point; reckless driving and DUII are worth two. Four points in a one-year period result in a six-month license suspension.
While Oregon hasn’t formalized this kind of point system, DMV’s Driver Improvement Program comes close: drivers who pick up too many convictions or at-fault crashes over a period of 18 to 24 months will face license restrictions and suspensions. For example, an adult’s license will be suspended for 30 days if the DMV record shows, over the preceding two years:
Each additional conviction or preventable collision during the two-year “lookback” period results in a new 30-day suspension.
- Four “driver improvement” convictions, including such common moving violations as speeding, failing to obey a traffic signal and following too closely, or
- Four “preventable accidents,” or
- A combination of moving violations and preventable accidents totaling four.
The rules are stricter for teen drivers with a provisional license who accumulate two convictions or two preventable collisions, or a combination of one conviction and one collision. For 90 days, their licenses are restricted to work-related driving and no passengers other than a parent, step-parent or guardian. Any subsequent conviction or collision results in a full six-month suspension of their right to drive.
The insurance consequences of traffic convictions and preventable collisions are determined by individual companies, which may have their own equivalents of a point system.
For any traffic violation, Oregon law gives judges the discretion to order an offender to take a driver improvement course like Trauma Nurses Talk Tough. A license can even be suspended until the driver completes the class.
Quick Facts on Traffic Safety
Every spring the Oregon Department of Transportation sponsors an education program to
update judges on legislation, highway safety and other issues concerning state vehicle law.
The March 2013 program included data about traffic crashes and their causes as well as new
data that suggests recent gains in safety may be eroding.
The 2011 figures show that:
- The number of fatal collisions in Oregon increased by six percent compared to 2010
- The number of crashes causing injuries went up by 14 percent
- The total number of crashes grew by 11 percent
- Collisions involving young drivers, motorcycles, bicyclists, pedestrians and trucks increased by five percent or more.
The most dangerous drive time (statistically) was the afternoon rush hour, especially on Fridays. November was the peak month for crashes.
The most common driver errors included: following too closely, running into fixed objects, failure to yield the right-of-way, driving too fast for conditions, failing to obey traffic signs and signals and inattention.
The most common errors by bicyclists included: failing to obey traffic signs or signals, failure to yield and driving on the wrong side of the road.
Pedestrian errors commonly involved crossing between intersections, failing to yield to vehicles and disregarding traffic signals.
The increased number of collisions in Oregon (and 12 other states) stands out in comparison with national trends, which continue to show a slow but steady decline in crashes resulting in death or injury.
While the numbers don’t directly reveal the extent of this problem, many experts believe that distracted driving may be the root cause of a growing number of crashes every year; a theory reinforced by the profusion of smartphones in Oregon.
Whether or not the 2011 data reflects a temporary setback, it’s possible that next year’s data will provide us with a better look at statewide trends in traffic safety.
A Closer Look at Distracted Driving
As data continues to accumulate on the dangers of distracted driving, legislators in Oregon and elsewhere have imposed more restrictions and harsher sanctions.
Last spring, Utah imposed the toughest penalties so far, making it a criminal offense to use a cell phone for anything besides making or receiving a call, or for GPS navigation. All other uses, including sending or receiving data, reading text, looking at images and using apps, are prohibited. Violators face up to 90 days in jail, or five years if there’s a collision that causes injuries.
Proving texting violations can be challenging for police officers and prosecutors. Cell phone records can be subpoenaed into court, but they’re often inconclusive. Unless a driver admits to texting, police officers typically must observe a violation in order to issue a citation. But it can be difficult to tell whether a driver is texting or, for example, legally using a cell phone to select music.
Distracted driving can be an underlying issue even when a driver wasn’t cited for a cell phone violation. For example, a defendant stopped at a red light recently admitted in court that he was so distracted by his cell phone that he didn’t notice the change to green until a chorus of horns arose behind him. He was cited for “impeding traffic,” with a presumptive fine of $110. In another case, a defendant was cited for “careless driving,” subject to a $435 presumptive fine, after she sideswiped a parked car on a quiet residential street while she was texting.
Though many calls are made with the auto-dial function, entering a ten-digit telephone number by hand can be as distracting as sending a text message. In each case, a driver’s eyes can be off the road for five seconds or more.
One recent study suggests that the dangers of cell phone use may extend beyond voice and text conversations: one-fifth of drivers admitted to surfing the web while behind the wheel.
[With thanks to Gary Delzer.]
When Independence and Traffic Safety Conflict
After pleading “not guilty” and appearing for trial, the elderly defendant—I’ll call him Jim—politely announced when his case was called that he wanted to change his plea to “no contest.” He explained that he had seen the officer’s videotape of the incident and decided that he had no defense to the charge of failing to obey a red light. The video showed that he had stopped at the light, as required by Oregon’s rules of the road, but made a right turn without first yielding the right of way to an approaching car. The other driver braked hard and narrowly avoided a collision. “I just didn’t see her,” Jim admitted.
This sequence of events isn’t unusual in traffic court, but this particular defendant was accompanied by his adult son. Even though Jim enjoyed good health and his record reflected a safe driving career, his son had urged him to talk to his eye doctor after receiving the ticket. The doctor found that Jim’s impaired peripheral vision had grown worse since his last examination. She recommended that he stop driving, and his family strongly agreed. Jim told me that he had already returned his license to the DMV.
This decision was clearly difficult for Jim. In our auto-centered culture, many older drivers depend on their cars to shop, socialize and make appointments. Their car can be a potent symbol of independence. Nevertheless, 600,000 drivers in the U.S. stop driving every year due to declining health.
Fortunately, Jim chose the safer alternative to driving with failing vision. According to a Canadian study, intervention by doctors may be the most effective way to catch the attention of drivers with physical impairments that may affect their driving ability. By law, doctors in Canada are required to send warnings to drivers who develop such conditions. For those who received warnings, the study showed an impressive reduction of about 45 percent in the annual rate of crashes involving injuries.
Will Human Drivers Become Obsolete?
Imagine seeing two trucks and three cars traveling in a tight cluster down the freeway at 55 mph. As they come closer, it’s clear that the five vehicles are only about 20 feet, or less than half a second, apart. A typical driver with a reaction time of 1.5 seconds would not be able to brake quickly enough in an emergency. These vehicles are clearly not maintaining the “reasonable and prudent” distance required by Oregon law. All four drivers behind the lead truck could be cited for “following too closely.”
But the video I’m watching is on YouTube, not in the courtroom, and the four vehicles behind the leader aren’t under the control of human drivers. The video shows a “caravan” experiment in “connected vehicle technologies” (CVTs) that took place over a distance of 120 miles on a Spanish freeway. All five vehicles were wirelessly connected by onboard computers, GPS devices, lasers and cameras that constantly exchanged data. These devices monitor the speed, direction and distance between the vehicles to make constant adjustments to ensure safety at highway speeds.
According to proponents, CVT technologies like the caravan are safer because they eliminate human error. The caravan also reduces driver fatigue and lowers fuel costs (by 20 percent) since closer following distances reduce drag.
CVT systems are under intensive study by auto manufacturers and many governments. Some are already available to help drivers park and avoid rear-end collisions. Others can warn drivers about hazards like vehicles in their blind spot, oncoming cars in the passing zone and vehicles approaching an intersection. The more experimental CVT systems may not be available for ten years.
There are two obvious risks in relying on CVTs: they could malfunction, as computers
are sometimes known to do, and drivers could become so dependent upon them that they stop
paying attention to the road. CVT developers will need to overcome some healthy skepticism
before their systems are accepted by drivers.
Distracted Driving Among Teens
Statistics often reveal trends in traffic safety, but sometimes they require interpretation
to make sense. Here's a number that speaks for itself: in a nationwide survey by the Centers for
Disease Control, more than half of high-school seniors admitted that they had texted or emailed while driving.
Texting and other forms of distracted driving are major contributors to the nation's 3,000
fatalities and 350,000 injuries to teenagers in crashes each year. Motor vehicle collisions are responsible for
35 percent of all teenage deaths, the largest single cause. Male drivers and passengers are twice as likely to be
killed as females. The main causes of these crashes are:
While many teens mature with age, the survey suggests the opposite: 58 percent of high-school seniors
admitted to texting while driving, compared to 43 percent of juniors and 23 percent of sophomores. Teen
drivers don't seem to appreciate that texting takes their eyes off the road for three to four seconds and during that
time (at 55 mph) a car can travel the length of a football field.
- Inexperience, especially during the first year after getting a license
- Driving with teen passengers
- Driving at night
- Distracted driving, including eating, tinkering with the radio and using cell phones, and
- Alcohol or drug impairment
The CDC survey also produced some encouraging results: nearly all teens wore seatbelts regularly, and
fewer than one in ten said they drove while impaired by alcohol. These results show great progress since
regular surveys began 20 years ago.
Thanks to changes in Oregon law, there have been signifi cant declines in collision rates for teen drivers.
Most notably, the graduated licensing law reduces the risks associated with inexperience, driving with teen
passengers and nighttime driving. And remember, for persons under 21, Oregon law provides that "any amount
of alcohol in the blood constitutes being under the influence" of alcohol.
New Law for Child Safety Devices
Since it was created in 1993, the Three Flags program for international traffic safety has expanded to include hundreds of police agencies in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. In May 2012, Three Flags resumed its focus on seat-belt education and intensive enforcement in Tigard and the Portland Metro area, though drivers may also be stopped for other types of violations.
Oregon law requires drivers and all passengers to fasten their safety belts “properly,” which means that the shoulder strap should be worn over the shoulder rather than under the arm. The safety advantages of the shoulder strap may be lost if it is not worn as designed. The law also requires that safety-belt systems be maintained in working order.
During the 2011 legislative session, the law regulating child-safety devices was changed to increase the margin of safety for young passengers. Oregon law now requires that:
All safety devices for children must meet federal standards.
- Infants younger than one year, or any child weighing less than twenty pounds, must be secured in an approved rear-facing car seat.
- Rear-facing car seats should never be placed on front seats, potentially exposing children to inflating airbags.
- Children weighing over forty pounds must ride in a booster seat until the age of eight or until they reach a height of at least four feet, nine inches.
- Children over the age of eight, or taller than four feet, nine inches, must use the car’s safety belts.
- Children under age 13 are less likely to be injured in a collision if they travel in the back seat, wearing safety belts that are properly fastened at all times.
For more information about selecting and installing an approved safety system, call ACTS Oregon at 877-793-2608 or visit their website at www.childsafetyseat.org.
Sharing the Road with Peds
With the arrival of warm weather and the extended daylight to enjoy it, expect to see more walkers and runners using our streets. It’s also a good time to review safety concerns and the laws for sharing the roadways with pedestrians.
Traffic safety is the responsibility of drivers and pedestrians. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, pedestrians contributed in some way to nearly seven out of ten fatal collisions with vehicles. In many of those incidents, the pedestrian entered the street illegally by crossing between intersections or failing to yield when the vehicle had the right-of-way.
The best advice for pedestrians?
- About one in three victims wore dark clothing at night, making them less visible;
- About six in ten had alcohol in their bloodstream; and,
- Four in ten were impaired, with blood alcohol levels of .08 percent or more.
Walk smart—use marked crosswalks and paths and wait for traffic to stop before crossing the street. Pedestrians tend to overestimate how visible they are to drivers, whose ability to see their surroundings may be limited by motion and vehicle blind spots. With more electric vehicles and bicycles using the street, pedestrians should rely on their vision more than their hearing when negotiating traffic. A pedestrian is likely to be the loser in any conflict with a vehicle, no matter who had the legal right-of-way.
Oregon law requires drivers to stop whenever a pedestrian is in a marked or unmarked crosswalk. Every intersection has a crosswalk, with or without painted marks on the street. On roads with two or more lanes in each direction, it is unlawful to pass another vehicle that is stopped for a pedestrian. At traffic lights, wait until a pedestrian has cleared your lane and at least six feet of the next lane before making a turn. At other intersections, remain stopped until the pedestrian has cleared both your lane and the lane next to it.
Cell Phone Bans: A Progress Report
Oregon is one of just nine states that ban hand-held cell phones while driving. Most of
these laws were adopted during the last few years, but a new study indicates that
cell phone restrictions have dramatically improved traffic safety in one of Oregon’s neighboring states.
Despite clear progress in reducing distracted driving, overall trends are alarming: there are now more wireless devices in the U.S. (327 million) than there are people.
It’s not surprising, then, that about one out of ten drivers is talking on a cell phone at any given time.
California’s 2008 ban on hand-held cell phones is a year older than Oregon’s. A statewide study by the
University of California at Berkeley shows that the number of injuries and deaths from crashes
involving cell phones declined by half after the new law went into effect. The number of traffic
fatalities decreased by 22 percent, while the number of drivers killed in crashes while using a
cell phone fell by nearly half.
The study identified two factors that may have contributed to these improvements in highway safety:
There’s also growing scientific evidence that hands-free use of cell phones isn’t any safer than hands-on.
- Greater public awareness of the risks of distracted driving are reflected in decreased use of cell phones by drivers.
- Stronger enforcement of the new law. With nearly a half million citations issued for cell phone violations during 2011, California’s fines for a first offense ($159) are considerably higher than Oregon’s ($110).
In an editorial on the Berkeley study, the Eugene Register-Guard quotes a California safety official
as follows: “It’s actually the talking more than the holding that’s the problem.”
FAQs About Traffic Trials
About 7,500 traffic violations are filed with our court each year. Around 10 percent of the cases go to trial after drivers (defendants) enter a “not guilty” plea. The following questions often come up when defendants are cited for minor traffic offenses:
When, and how, should I enter a “not guilty” plea?
The instructions provided on the citation will tell you how to enter a plea of either “no contest” (if you don’t want to challenge the ticket) or “not guilty.” You may choose to plead “not guilty” and have a trial if you don’t believe you committed the violation or want to explore a possible defense.
What rights do I have at trial?
In criminal cases, where there’s a risk of going to jail upon conviction, defendants are entitled to a jury trial and a court-appointed lawyer if they can’t afford to hire one. Those rights don’t apply to minor traffic violations, though you can hire a lawyer to represent you if you wish.
What procedures are followed at traffic trials?
Trial procedures and rules of evidence are similar to criminal cases. The burden is on the police officer to prove guilt by “a preponderance of the evidence,” so the officer presents evidence to the court first. You may cross-examine the officer by asking relevant questions, but you’re not required to testify or present any evidence at all.
Most defendants choose to testify, however, and many bring in witnesses on their own behalf. It is the judge’s job to make sure you have a fair trial based on all the admissible evidence.
When will the judge decide the case? Can I appeal?
The judge will usually make an immediate decision. You have the right to appeal to a higher court and have a new trial if you wish.
How can I get more information?
If you enter a “not guilty” plea, the court will provide further information to help you prepare for trial.
Oregon Makes Progress in Traffic Safety?
Recent data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers some encouraging news about traffic safety in Washington County and across Oregon. The number of fatalities on Oregon’s highways declined by about a third between 2004 and 2010. On urban roads, the reduction was equally dramatic: about 30 percent. Fatal crashes involving alcohol declined by more than half across the state, while speed-related fatal crashes fell by a third.
In the tri-county region, the reduction in fatal crashes per 100,000 vehicle miles was even more remarkable over the same five-year period: 30 percent in Multnomah County, 28 percent in Clackamas County and an impressive 70 percent in Washington County.
While driving on busy urban freeways can certainly be nerve-wracking at times, rural roads have proven to be far more dangerous: fatality rates are nearly twice as high compared to Oregon’s urban areas, although serious accidents have declined by about a third in rural areas as well.
While the trend is clear and encouraging, the reasons are not. Some experts believe that the struggling economy played a major role by reducing vehicle usage. Others point to the impact of the Three Flags program, a collaborative enforcement effort that has helped to increase safety-belt compliance to over 95 percent in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. (The national average is about 80 percent.) Overall, the NHTSA data shows that Oregon’s rate of traffic fatalities is about 22 percent below the national average.
The encouraging data is most likely the result of a combination of factors that can be hard to identify precisely. Enforcement of the Rules of the Road can contribute significantly to safer driving—especially laws related to impaired driving, speeding, intersections, safety belts, tailgating, and distracted driving. NHTSA estimates that 100 percent safety-belt compliance would save an additional 12 lives per year in Oregon.
However, the alarming national increase in distracted driving due to texting and cell phone use could easily unravel recent progress in highway safety.
A Complete Ban on Cell Phones?
Until 2007, there were no restrictions in Oregon on the use of cell phones or other portable electronic devices (PEDs) while driving. The law was revised in 2009 to prohibit most uses of cell phones without a hands-free device like a headset or BlueTooth. Then, during its 2011 session, the Oregon legislature eliminated nearly all the exceptions for job-related uses of cell phones without a hands-free device.
Given the trend towards greater restrictions, is it only a matter of time before there’s a complete ban? In December, the federal government’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) took a step in that direction by proposing a national prohibition on non-emergency PED use for all drivers at all times, even with a hands-free device.
In support of its proposal, the NTSB reviewed data from various studies and recited a long list of incidents caused by people who were distracted by PEDs. These included:
Like everyone else, judges look on with interest as the debate over PEDs continues. But it’s up to lawmakers in Salem, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to grapple with the data and the conflicting political interests to resolve the issue.
- A Virginia school bus driver, distracted by a hands-free PED, collided with a highway overpass, injuring 27 students.
- A truck driver in Kentucky, distracted by his PED, swerved across a freeway into an oncoming lane and collided with a van, causing 11 fatalities.
- Two pilots on a commercial flight to Minneapolis were distracted by their laptops and flew 100 miles past their destination.
- Drivers using PEDs “look but fail to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment.”
- Distracted driving contributed to 3,092 traffic deaths nationwide in 2010.
Even if Congress agrees with the NTSB, a direct national ban on PEDs is not likely. Instead, Congress could strongly
encourage such action by making federal highway funding contingent upon passage of PED bans at the state level.
Evolving Standards for DUII Convictions
With an increased understanding of the effects that alcohol and drugs have on drivers, Oregon’s Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII) law has become more stringent since I began practicing law over three decades ago. At that time, Oregon prohibited driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .10 percent or higher. Today the legal standard is .08 percent BAC, just as it is in the other forty-nine states and the District of Columbia. About one-sixth of all drivers killed on Oregon highways are confirmed to be at or above .08 percent BAC and in the not so distant past, many states tolerated BAC levels as high as .14 percent.
The current standard reflects extensive testing of coordination, reaction time and concentration in a wide range of situations. At a BAC level of .08 percent, nearly all study participants will show significant impairment in performing the kinds of tasks routinely required of drivers.
Some reformers argue that DUII laws in the U.S. are still too lenient. For example, at .06 percent BAC, more than half the participants in several studies showed consistent impairment in coordination, reaction time and the ability to complete mental tasks. Even at .01 percent, more than half the study participants became drowsy and less vigilant. Contrary to popular opinion, at least one analysis sponsored by the U.S. government shows that differences in age, gender and drinking habits provide “no mitigation” of impairment.
In response to such studies, many other countries have adopted lower BAC limits.
France, Japan, Italy, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Egypt, Argentina and Germany use a standard of .05 percent while Sweden, China, India, Poland and Norway adopted a standard of .02 to .03 percent BAC. The U.S. is a statistical outlier: only a few countries, including the U.K. and New Zealand, share the .08 percent limit.
Even under current Oregon law, a driver with a BAC level below .08 percent can still be convicted of DUII if the driver is unable to pass standard field-sobriety tests, including the heel-to-toe walk and the finger-to-nose test.
Legislative Changes in Fine Schedules
During a recent court session, a defendant pleaded “guilty” to a stop-sign violation. Before offering an explanation, she asked, “Why is the fine so high for a California stop?” With a busy courtroom, I didn’t have time to give her a complete explanation. My short answer was: fines for traffic and criminal offenses are heavily regulated by state law.
There are nearly 200 municipal and justice (county) courts in Oregon, in addition to the state courts in each of the 36 county seats. All courts must apply the same statutes governing fines, including any reductions below the amount written on the front of the ticket.
Not surprisingly, legislators set fines based on their assessment of the seriousness of each violation, on a scale from A to D. Some typical examples:
During the 2011 session, legislators overhauled the current fine schedule by adopting House Bill 2712. At 118 pages, the bill is very complex, but the practical result is that “presumptive fines” will go down by 12–24 percent, depending on the class of violation. The law will apply to citations issued after December 31, 2011.
- Class A: Exceeding the speed limit by 31+ mph, speed racing, failing to stop for a school bus, driving while suspended;
- Class B: Failing to stop for a traffic light or stop sign, exceeding the speed limit by 21–30 mph, driving without insurance;
- Class C: Exceeding the speed limit by 11–20 mph, illegal U-turn; and,
- Class D: Exceeding the speed limit by 1–10 mph, impeding or blocking traffic, expired registration.
As in the past, the bill requires that a state assessment be imposed for every violation. On a typical Class C speeding ticket, for example, the “presumptive fine” of $160 will include a $60 assessment that the court must forward to the Oregon Department of Revenue.
Defendants with good driving records, like the one who questioned her fine, will remain eligible for limited reductions under the new law.
Skateboards and Oregon Law
The Jim Griffith Memorial Skate Park located next to the Tigard Civic Center on Hall Boulevard opened four years ago. It quickly became a magnet for skateboarders from all over northwestern Oregon. Often, after work, I watch in awe as these fine athletes perform their tricks of balance, strength and coordination.
While many skateboarders arrive by car, others ride their boards to the park on streets and sidewalks, creating occasional conflicts with pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles. When a boarder was cited for a traffic violation some months back, I had to evaluate the legal status of the sport. Skateboards clearly fall within the definition of a “wheeled vehicle” under the Tigard Municipal Code. But are boarders also “afoot,” and therefore within the Oregon Vehicle Code’s definition of “pedestrian”?
Bottom line: the Municipal Code requires boarders to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians on all sidewalks,
and riding on sidewalks along Main Street in downtown Tigard is specifically prohibited. Boarders aren’t permitted to ride on any street, except at crosswalks. These violations are subject to fines ranging from $110 to $260.
Even if he or she isn’t cited, a boarder who injures a pedestrian or bicyclist may face liability in a civil lawsuit. Boarders who ride on public streets face special dangers: they may be difficult for motorists to see at intersections and small rocks or other irregularities on the roadway can cause serious falls, often at high speeds.
Six out of ten victims of skateboard injuries are under the age of 15. Not surprisingly, new riders are at the highest risk. Many boarders fail to wear protective gear like helmets, slip-resistant shoes or body padding, all of which can reduce injuries significantly.
The skate park has its own set of rules, posted by the entrance. For their own safety, and the safety of others, boarders should familiarize themselves with the rules and laws that govern their sport.
Videos in Traffic Court
The SUV emerged from a row of shrubbery and approached the stop sign about forty feet ahead. Although the driver insisted
that she had stopped, I could plainly see that the SUV barely slowed as it rolled over the white stop line and
accelerated through the intersection. I entered a “guilty” finding on the citation and, because she had a good
record, imposed the minimum fine of $195.
By now, any reader with legal training might rightly object: “How can you be the judge and a witness in the same case?”
If I had seen the actual incident, of course, I’d have an ethical duty to recuse myself and refer the case to another
judge. In fact, though, I “witnessed” the violation in the courtroom along with everyone else watching the crisp,
high-definition color video projected onto a large screen.
Videos of traffic violations have been common in U.S. courtrooms since Pennsylvania State Police equipped
its cruisers with cameras in 1996. In Tigard, video evidence has also been available for many years, but
it is becoming much more common now that all the city’s police cruisers have been furnished with state-of-the-art
Like still photos, video evidence is generally admissible under Oregon’s evidence code. Videos won’t be
available in every case, though, due to such factors as camera angles, weather conditions and traffic
The increased use of video cameras for traffic enforcement and general surveillance has generated growing concern
about the erosion of privacy in U.S. culture. Those policy issues are best addressed by citizens, not judges,
working with their elected representatives. Unless Oregon law is revised, video evidence of alleged violations
will remain a useful tool in court, along with more traditional evidence such as testimony, diagrams and
For the SUV driver who disobeyed the stop sign, video evidence of the violation might help her confront and
improve the driving habits that brought her into the courtroom.
Since 1985, total vehicle miles traveled in U.S. urban areas has nearly doubled. Still, a large majority of fatal crashes occur on rural highways. The reason? Rural traffic often travels on two-lane “secondary” highways where vehicles move at high speeds in close proximity to other vehicles and stationary objects. By contrast, 80 percent of nonfatal collisions involving injuries or property damage take place in or near cities.
The most common causes (2009) were:
Most urban collisions (about 1.2 million in 2009) took place at intersections: 55 percent occurred at intersections controlled by traffic lights and another 21 percent at stop signs. Statistically, the majority of crashes occured between noon and 9 p.m. Only seven percent of crashes occured between midnight and 6 a.m., but 24 percent of those were fatal—possibly a reflection of the number of impaired drivers on the roadway and higher speeds when traffic is light.
- Drivers who ran red lights or stop signs;
- Rear-end impacts caused by drivers who followed too closely and were unable to stop in time to avoid a collision;
- Vehicles that veered off the roadway and hit stationary objects;
- Drivers who swerved into an oncoming or adjacent lane and collided with another vehicle; and,
- Drivers who turned left in front of an oncoming vehicle.
Innovations in vehicle design and safety could help to reduce the number of injuries in both urban and rural areas. Several studies show that simply turning on one’s headlights during daylight hours can reduce the risk of collisions by about ten percent. The injury rates from “T-bone” collisions decline significantly (37 percent) in vehicles equipped with side airbags.
Some newer vehicles are equipped with forward collision warning systems that alert drivers to the presence of objects in front of them and even, in some models, automatically apply brakes to prevent a crash.
Data Source (among others): Highway Loss Data Institute
The 2011 legislative session just ended, producing two new laws which will affect drivers across Oregon:
Cell Phone Use While Driving
Existing law allows drivers to use cell phones only with a “hands-free accessory” (like a headset or Bluetooth) that allows them “to maintain both hands on the steering wheel.” There are a few exceptions, including one that applies to “a person operating a motor vehicle in the scope of the person’s employment if operation of the motor vehicle is necessary for the person’s job.” The new law will eliminate this vague “employment exception” for nearly everyone. It will remain intact only for police officers, tow truck drivers, utility workers and a few other drivers “acting within the scope” of their employment.
Flashing Yellow Arrows
Current law doesn’t clearly state whether a driver is authorized to enter an intersection on a flashing yellow arrow. The new law specifically addresses this issue by allowing drivers to “cautiously enter the intersection only to make the movement indicated by the flashing yellow arrow signal.” However, drivers are required to “yield the right-of-way to other vehicles within the intersection” when the arrow is flashing and also “yield the right-of-way to other vehicles approaching from the opposite direction.”
The new provision on yellow arrows allows drivers to proceed into an intersection to make a left turn after yielding to other vehicles. In heavy or moderate traffic, however, drivers may be unable to make their turns before their signal turns red, leaving them stuck in the middle of the intersection. That could be a violation of Oregon laws prohibiting Obstructing Cross Traffic and Impeding Traffic, both of which are subject to a $145 fine. For that reason, it’s best to refrain from entering an intersection unless you’re sure you can complete your turn without blocking traffic.
Both new laws will go into effect on January 1, 2012.
Ins-and-Outs of the Turn Lane
Let’s say you’re driving down the right lane on a four-lane street. Approaching an intersection, you notice that your lane is about to be separated from the left lane by a single solid white line. In other words, it’s about to become a right-turn lane. But you want to go straight, so what are your options?
DMV’s Oregon Driver Manual states that “crossing a wide solid white line is permitted but discouraged,” though you may cross it “with caution.” It goes on to say that a double solid white line “means you are not allowed to change lanes.” Since you’re facing only a single white line, you may change lanes “with caution.” Crossing the white line is “discouraged,” so it’s preferable to make the lane change before you reach the divider.
But the situation is rarely so simple. Turn lanes are often equipped with signs or arrows in addition to painted solid lines. Under Oregon law, a sign saying “Right Turn Only,” or something similar, means that drivers are committed to staying in the lane and making the turn when they reach the sign. If there are arrows on the pavement with “ONLY” painted under them, the legal effect is the same: the turn is mandatory, not optional.
Stop signs, lane lines and traffic lights are the most common ways to regulate traffic flow. But Oregon law defines
“traffic control device” to include “any sign, signal, marking or device placed, operated or erected… for the purpose
of guiding, directing, warning or regulating traffic.” The definition is broad enough to include the solid white lines,
signs and arrows that govern turn lanes. Failure to obey a traffic control device can subject violators to a $260 fine.
Many drivers become stranded in required turn lanes unintentionally. Others use wide-open turn lanes as a means of getting around long lines of traffic. In either case, the safest course is just to make the turn.
Changing Traffic Patterns on Pacific Highway
The intersection of Hall Blvd. and Pacific Hwy. (99W) is certainly among the busiest in Tigard. Construction and a redesign have changed the flow of traffic and alleviated much of the congestion there. However, a few of these changes require special care and attention as drivers adjust to new patterns.
Consider the following example:
Since a left turn is now prohibited from southbound Pacific Hwy. onto Garden Pl., vehicles are permitted to make U-turns on the left green arrow for Hall Blvd. southbound. This enables drivers to backtrack to businesses along Pacific Hwy. and Garden Pl. Many drivers are taking advantage of this opportunity.
In executing their U-turns, however, drivers potentially come into conflict with vehicles turning on red from northbound Hall into the right northbound lane of Pacific Hwy. Under Oregon law, such a right turn is permissible on red if the driver stops first and yields the right-of-way to other vehicles that are lawfully approaching, or within, the intersection.
In plain English: drivers making a right turn on red from northbound Hall onto Pacific must yield to vehicles making a U-turn from the left-turn lane.
The left-turn lane onto southbound Hall Blvd. from Pacific Hwy. has also been lengthened considerably as part of the redesign. As a frequent user of that intersection, I’ve noticed that some drivers tailgate as they proceed towards the green arrow. The result? If a driver slows abruptly to make a U-turn at the intersection, the following vehicle is barely able to stop in time to avoid a rear-end collision.
Oregon has a very restrictive U-turn law for urban areas. At intersections where U-turns are specifically allowed by a traffic sign, as at Hall and Pacific, drivers need to adjust following distances to avoid collisions with vehicles executing these lawful U-turns.
The safest approach may be to assume that any vehicle in the left-turn lane on southbound Pacific at Hall will make a U-turn.
A Safety Success Story
For over twenty-five years, Oregon has required drivers and passengers to use safety
belts. The law was toughened in 1990 and today, violations are subject to a fine
of $110. Under the current law, Oregon has achieved a compliance rate of 97 percent;
the third-highest in the nation. The national compliance rate was 84 percent in 2010.
Not surprisingly, in recent years the number of citations for safety-belt violations
has declined in our court and across Oregon. More importantly, the rate of injuries
resulting from collisions has declined by 49 percent since 1990; fatality rates have
dropped by 44 percent.
What contributed to this success? I believe the multi-jurisdictional Three Flags
Campaign deserves much of the credit. It focuses on expanding safety-belt usage
in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia through two parallel approaches:
education and enforcement. Its original focus was the Interstate 5 corridor
from Vancouver, B.C. to Ashland, OR, but the program quickly grew to encompass
the whole region. Federal grants provide dedicated funding for safety-belt
“blitzes” by state and local law enforcement, along with funds for advertising
and other educational efforts.
While the scale of the program has diminished the campaign’s success, the Three
Flags Campaign will continue. The Tigard Police Department has scheduled its
next blitz for the first two weeks in May, with another to follow in September.
Nearly all drivers and passengers cited for violations admit that they were fully
aware of the law. Some believed they were still in compliance by simply wearing
the shoulder strap under their arms. However, the law requires that safety belts
be worn “properly.” A shoulder belt worn under the arm provides little protection
in a collision. The lap belt should be worn low, at the hip, to avoid injury to
the soft tissue of the lower abdomen. To get the full benefit, seatbelts
should be worn as intended.
Setting and Enforcing Speed Limits
Like most Oregon courts, a large portion of our traffic caseload consists of citations for exceeding the speed limit. Presumptive
fines for these violations range from $110 for speeding within 10 mph of the posted speed to $1,150 for drivers exceeding 100 mph.
In court, some drivers express surprise that they would be cited for speeds less than 10 mph (or even 15 mph) over the limit. In fact, Oregon law allows no such “cushion.” Drivers risk being cited whenever they exceed posted speed limits. For obvious reasons, police officers are more likely to stop the fastest drivers. Individual officers can determine what speeds will be tolerated at any given time and location, depending on traffic conditions, weather and other circumstances.
At speeding trials, I occasionally encounter strong arguments, often well researched, that a given
speed limit is too low for the design capacity of a roadway. Judges aren’t trained in traffic engineering
though, and it’s not our job to second-guess the professionals who set speed limits.
Speed limits are established by the Oregon Department of Transportation and the road authority
based on statutory guidelines. Factors include:
Traffic engineers are trained to balance these elements in determining safe speed limits. If the limit is set unreasonably low, more drivers are likely to ignore it, promoting disrespect for the law. If it’s too high, there will be more collisions and serious injuries.
In a school zone, for example, a pedestrian struck by a vehicle going 30 mph has a 27 percent chance of
surviving. At the posted limit of 20 mph, the odds increase to 87 percent.
- Overall road design, including curves, hills and sight distance;
- The density of residential and commercial development along the roadway;
- The width, surface and shoulder of the roadway;
- Pedestrian and bicycle activity;
- Prevailing speeds on the roadway;
- Speed limits on nearby streets or highways; and,
- Collision rates or risk of collision.
Oregon Traffic Law 101
The compilation of laws known as the Oregon Vehicle Code sprawls across more than 700 pages of fine print, not counting the index. Many Oregon judges become familiar with the Code during their careers, especially the 50-page chapter entitled “Rules of the Road for Drivers.”
The bulk of the Code addresses a wide range of technical subjects like equipment requirements, vehicle titles and registration, license suspensions, insurance requirements, and weight limitations for commercial vehicles. The Code also establishes two classes of vehicle offenses: violations and crimes.
Violations are subject to a fine and, in some cases, license suspensions. Fines are heavily regulated by state law,
even in county and municipal courts. For example, the presumptive fine of $260 for running a stop sign is
set by statute, as are the highest and lowest fines. Some traffic violations can have serious consequences in
addition to a fine. Speeding at 100 mph or faster, for instance, can result in an automatic 30-day license
suspension in addition to the $1,150 minimum fine.
Traffic crimes are subject to a fine, jail time, lengthy license suspensions and probation. These include DUII, Reckless Driving, Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver (“Hit and Run”) and Attempting to Elude a Police Officer. These offenses carry maximum penalties of a year in jail and a $6,250 fine.
Anyone charged with a violation or crime has a constitutional right to plead “not guilty” and have a trial before an impartial judge or jury. Trials for violations are conducted by a judge and the accused has a right to be represented by a lawyer at his or her own expense. Because their liberty is at risk, persons accused of crimes are entitled to a trial by jury and a court-appointed lawyer if unable to afford one. Anyone convicted of a crime or violation also has the right to appeal to a higher court.
For more information, visit the court’s website.
Driving Safely as We Age
By 2030, more than 70 million Americans, or one in five, will be over the age of 65. Many older citizens will continue to depend on their own cars for basic mobility, especially in areas that are underserved by public transportation. In one study, barely half the surveyed communities offered “dial-a-ride” or other door-to-door services.
Older drivers will need to maintain their driving skills in the face of a gradual physical decline that may include:
Many older drivers voluntarily surrender their license when they realize that their driving skills have declined. Others simply don’t recognize their growing physical limitations and overlook problems until they’re involved in a crash or start receiving traffic citations. For them, the best alternative is for family members to get involved and persuade them to stop driving. (Oregon DMV will exchange a driver’s license for an ID card at no cost.)
- Impaired vision, making it more difficult to see signs, lane lines, highway dividers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Annual eye exams are essential, and many older drivers wisely drive only during daylight hours. It’s important to keep windshields, mirrors and headlights clean. Larger signs would help: one study showed that only 40 percent of traffic signs meet the needs of older drivers.
- Impaired hearing, making it harder to detect sirens from approaching emergency vehicles. Drivers should limit passenger and cell phone conversations and background noise from the radio.
- Arthritis and other conditions, making it harder for drivers to take such routine precautions as turning their heads to check for other vehicles before changing lanes. Regular exercise, under medical supervision, may help older drivers maintain flexibility and alertness.
- Disorientation from sensory overload, leaving many drivers feeling overwhelmed by heavy traffic. This danger may be reduced by staying on familiar routes and avoiding rush hours.
As a last resort, Oregon DMV’s “At-Risk Driver” program can intervene, resulting in a medical determination of a driver’s abilities.
Slow Driving and Road Rage
Like most traffic courts, a large portion (26 percent in 2009) of our caseload consists of speeding tickets. Occasionally, though, drivers are cited into court for its mirror opposite: going too slowly, known under Oregon’s Rules of the Road as “Impeding traffic” (fine $110). This law prohibits driving in a manner that “impedes or blocks the reasonable and normal movement of traffic,” with a few exceptions like slowing to make a turn.
In many cases, slow or “impeding” drivers are searching for an address or business and simply fail to pay attention to their rearview mirrors. Often a long line of cars gathers behind the pokey vehicle until the driver finally pulls over or an officer is able to make a traffic stop.
Delayed drivers tend to become frustrated quickly. Some resort to provocative or dangerous behavior in response to the slow driver - from blowing their horns repeatedly to taking serious risks, like tailgating or passing in a no-passing zone. Each of these violations can expose impatient drivers to a citation with a $260 fine. Confrontations, otherwise known as road rage, can rapidly escalate into collisions or even criminal charges.
The Oregon Driver Manual recommends that slow drivers keep to the right and be aware of traffic behind them. If traffic is backing up, the manual advises drivers to “pull off the road in the first area safe to turn out and let the traffic behind them pass.” When road, weather and traffic conditions permit, drivers can reduce the risk of conflicts (and a ticket) by staying at, or not far below, the posted speed limit.
A separate provision of Oregon law requires trucks, trailers and campers to drive in the right lane on highways with four or more lanes. There are a few exceptions for passing and other maneuvers. Since these vehicles tend to be slower than others, violators are subject to higher fines ($260 and up).
Traffic Safety: It's Up to You!
According to recent data from the Oregon Department of Transportation, our state continues to show steady progress in improving traffic safety and reducing collisions. Some examples:
Other factoids gleaned from recent data include:
- While the total number of collisions went down slightly in 2009, traffic fatalities decreased by 10 percent compared to 2008.
- The trend through September 23rd of this year is even more encouraging, with a further decline of 14 percent in fatalities compared to the same period in 2009.
- One out of five collisions involved drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 during 2009, a reduction of 5 percent compared to 2008.
- There’s no such thing as a traffic “accident.” Nearly all collisions are caused by driver negligence.
What accounts for the improvements in traffic safety that many of these figures reflect? Oregon’s graduated
licensing program for younger drivers may be one factor. Another may be Oregon’s success in improving
safety belt compliance rates through public education and targeted enforcement. Safety belts increase
the chance of survival in a collision, but the real key to traffic safety is greater driver awareness.
There’s no such thing as a traffic “accident.” Nearly all collisions are caused by driver negligence.
- Rear-end collisions were responsible for one out of three non-fatal crashes in Oregon.
- The number of collisions in Tigard declined by 11 percent from 2008 to 2009.
- During 2008, 41 percent of the 778 crashes in Tigard were rear-end collisions, resulting in 142 injuries. Most of the drivers who caused these collisions were cited for “following too closely,” carrying a $295 fine.
- Failure to yield the right-of-way contributed to 16 percent of collisions in Tigard during 2008.
- More than three out of four collisions in Tigard occurred on dry pavement during 2009.
- Crowded urban freeways have a reputation for being dangerous, but the rate of crashes causing deaths and injuries is nine to ten times higher on Oregon’s rural highways.
- Data shows the most dangerous time of year for collisions in Oregon are Fridays in December from 5-6 p.m.
Learning From Older Drivers
About 40 million Americans, or one-eighth of our population, are 65 years of age or older. As still more members of the baby-boomer generation cross that threshold, we’ll all have to adjust to the effects of aging on our vision, hearing, reaction times and general driving ability.
About one-fifth of licensed drivers in the U.S. are 65 or older, and they have a certain reputation for being inattentive and even unsafe. Yet many studies suggest that these older drivers are safer and more responsible than their younger (and less experienced) counterparts.
According the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 183,000 older drivers were injured, and about 10,000 killed, in traffic collisions in the U.S. during 2008. When older drivers are involved in fatal crashes, however, the younger driver is twice as likely to be at fault. Female drivers over 65 had by far the lowest fatality rate of any group surveyed in the NHTSA analysis. Male drivers aged 20 to 24 were twice as likely to be involved in fatal collisions than men over 65, and nine times more likely than women over 65.
The NHTSA study also concluded that “older drivers involved in fatal crashes… had the lowest proportion of intoxication [5 percent] of all adult drivers.” About 60 percent of all impaired drivers involved in fatal collisions were under the age of 34.
One reason for the higher survival rate of older drivers is the greater likelihood that they’ll use safety belts. Nationally, about 78 percent of drivers over 65 used safety belts, compared to 63 percent for younger adults.
Of the 519 Oregon drivers involved in fatal collisions in 2008, 65 (or 12.5 percent) were older drivers. The vast majority (80 percent) of these collisions took place during daytime hours and on weekdays (72 percent), perhaps because older drivers are less likely to drive at night and on weekends.
Despite the familiar stereotypes about older drivers, the numbers show that younger drivers might learn something from them.
Flashing Yellow Lights
Most drivers know that a solid yellow light at an intersection means “stop,” since their right-of-way is about to be terminated by a red light. If the vehicle can’t stop “in safety,” the driver “may drive cautiously through the intersection” under Oregon law.
Flashing yellow lights are less familiar and some drivers are confused about how they should respond to them. The general rule, whether the flashing yellow light is part of a standard traffic signal or attached to a sign, is simple: a “driver may proceed through the intersection or past the signal only with caution.”
The flashing yellow lights attached to school-zone signs have become very common recently. When activated, these lights indicate that children may be leaving or arriving at school, triggering a 20-mph speed limit. But traffic engineers are now using flashing yellow lights in useful ways that may not be so familiar to drivers. Two examples:
1. Flashing yellow lights at marked crosswalks. Drivers may proceed with caution when these lights are flashing, but they’re not required to stop unless a pedestrian has entered the crosswalk. Even if a pedestrian is still on the curb or sidewalk and hasn’t entered the crosswalk, the most cautious approach is to slow down or even stop until the pedestrian’s intentions are clear.
2. Flashing yellow arrows on signals for turn lanes. At many intersections, these arrows are appearing during part of a light’s usual cycle. Drivers faced with a flashing yellow arrow can turn cautiously after yielding to oncoming traffic. These lights are very effective at improving traffic flow.
In sum: drivers must stop for solid yellow lights, but not flashing yellow lights. A flashing yellow light requires drivers to yield to pedestrians or other vehicles that have the right-of-way. Caution may also require slower speeds, even outside school zones. Beyond that, drivers should avoid tunnel vision and scan the area for potential hazards as they approach a flashing light.
The Perils of Aggressive Driving
A few weeks ago, I was driving from Tigard to Portland on I-5. The afternoon rush hour was well underway, but traffic was moving along at the speed limit. In my rearview mirror, I saw a white sedan switch abruptly into my lane and edge close to my rear bumper. When a small opening appeared in the left lane, the driver accelerated, passed me and moved back into my lane for a few seconds before swerving into the right lane and passing several other cars. I never saw him signal a lane change.
Unfortunately, such aggressive driving is common on busy highways. The symptoms are familiar: tailgating, cutting off other vehicles, weaving through traffic, speeding, angry gestures, refusing to let other vehicles merge, honking and flashing lights. Aggressive or impaired drivers might even brandish firearms, ram other vehicles or try to force them off the road.
If faced with an aggressive or impaired driver, the best response is to avoid a confrontation. Get out of the way as quickly as possible and don’t challenge the other driver with aggressive driving of your own. Avoid eye contact and don’t respond to gestures or other provocations. Report extremely dangerous or impaired drivers by stopping at a safe location and calling 9-1-1, or have a passenger make the call.
Aggressive driving is often the result of frustration with traffic delays that can aggravate personal or job-related stresses. You can reduce the risk of becoming an aggressive driver by planning ahead and allowing extra time. You can avoid provoking aggressive drivers by simply paying attention to traffic conditions and going the speed limit, if possible. Riding the bus, or the efficient WES/MAX light-rail system, may be the best option.
And the white sedan? A few miles later, approaching downtown Portland in crawling traffic, my line of cars caught up with it. Despite his aggressive behavior, the driver had gained no advantage over the rest of us.
Stopping: An Unscientific Survey
Failure to obey stop signs is one of the most common reasons for drivers to be cited into traffic court. In pleading guilty to that charge, many drivers admit that they made a “rolling stop” or a “California stop.”
Oregon law is clear: “stop” means “complete cessation from movement.” Many police officers testify at trial that they watch a vehicle’s tires to determine whether the driver is compliant. A “rolling” stop is a contradiction in terms.
How often do drivers comply with the legal standard for a “stop?” To satisfy my curiosity, I conducted an unscientific survey of a couple hundred vehicles at several urban intersections with four-way stop signs. To ensure that my selections were impartial, none of the locations were in Tigard. The sample excluded drivers who were “forced” to stop by pedestrian or vehicle cross-traffic.
The overall compliance rate at the four locations was just 25 percent. Surprisingly, the lowest compliance rate (17 percent) was at the location with the most pedestrians.
What conclusions can be drawn from this sample? First, 75 percent of the drivers risked a ticket for Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device, with a fine of $260. Second, most drivers treated stop signs as “yield” signs: they slowed down, scanned the intersection and proceeded without stopping. Third, the Oregon drivers in my sample were slightly more law-abiding than those in national surveys that report noncompliance rates of 80–95 percent.
Only a few of the violations posed any immediate danger to pedestrians or other vehicles, and most of the drivers slowed to 5 mph or less. So is a stop really necessary?
Aside from the obvious legal requirement, about 700,000 police-reported collisions occur at stop signs in the U.S. every year.
A true stop at intersections takes only 3–4 extra seconds compared to a “rolling stop.” In return for this slight inconvenience,
drivers can develop safe habits that could reduce the number of stop-sign collisions and the injuries they cause.
Taking Care of Business
Last year, 9,165 violations of state and local laws were cited into the Tigard Municipal Court. The vast majority of the court’s caseload consisted of traffic violations under Oregon’s Rules of the Road, although the court also handles some categories of juvenile crimes and civil infractions under Tigard’s Municipal Code. The five most common categories of traffic violations during 2009 are displayed in the chart (right).
As in past years, the two most common offenses were Speeding and Failure to Obey Traffic Control Devices, including signals and stop signs. But about one-quarter of all traffic violations were not directly related to driving behavior, including Driving without Insurance (or No Proof of Insurance), Driving without a Valid License, Driving While Suspended and Expired Registration.
One common scenario goes like this: a driver is stopped for exceeding the speed limit by 11–20 mph, with a fine of $160. If the driver has no proof of insurance, or is driving uninsured, the driver can also be cited for that violation, which carries a $260 fine. Even worse for the driver, an officer can order that the vehicle be impounded if the officer has “reasonable grounds” to believe that the driver is uninsured, suspended, driving under the influence or has an invalid license.
Many of these “non-moving” violations could be avoided if drivers simply paid closer attention to taking care of business by keeping their licenses, insurance documents and mailing address with DMV current. State law encourages that practice by requiring Oregon drivers to change their addresses with DMV within thirty days of relocating.
Restricted Lanes at Intersections
Afternoon rush hour is well underway in Tigard as “Jane” drives north on Hall Boulevard, planning to turn left at the intersection with Pacific Highway. She notices that a long line of cars has backed up in the center lane for drivers planning to go left onto Pacific or straight onto Hall. Only a couple cars are ahead of her in the right lane, which becomes a signed “Right Turn Only” lane closer to the intersection.
Jane has to choose: Should she move into the center lane and follow the line of cars to the intersection, possibly waiting through several cycles of the light to get there? Or should she proceed ahead in the right lane and hope that a sympathetic driver will wave her into the center lane, thus avoiding the long delay? The risk, of course, is that Jane’s attempt to merge will fail and she’ll end up blocking the right-turn lane.
Jane faces a familiar dilemma at busy urban intersections. Once she enters a restricted turn (or straight) lane, however, she has no legal alternative but to obey the restriction. A right turn becomes mandatory as soon as Jane passes the sign and solid lane divider.
Restricted lanes are well marked according to a federal manual for road markings and devices. A restricted lane is usually defined by a solid line that begins well before the intersection. Arrows on the pavement and one or more signs alert drivers to the restriction.
A driver who ignores lane restrictions can be cited for “failure to obey a traffic control device,” with a fine of $260. A driver who blocks a lane can be cited for “impeding traffic” ($110 fine).
Jane and others who drive on Pacific Highway will soon be getting significant relief. When construction is complete, drivers will be offered three lanes at Hall Blvd. You can find the project details on the city’s website.
Dangerous Driving's "Top Ten" List
According to AAA and a survey by Forbes magazine, the ten most deadly driving practices include:
These “top ten” practices are not only dangerous, they can lead to traffic citations for
violating Oregon’s Rules of the Road.
- Texting and cell phones: The use of cell phones while driving increases the risk of a collision by 400 percent. Texting and the use of handheld cell phones while driving have been banned in Oregon and several other states. A California study suggests that the ban may be effective: texting while driving has decreased by 70%.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs: Alcohol abuse contributes to 40 percent of the nation’s 40,000 annual traffic fatalities and 60 percent of fatal collisions involving drivers aged 16–24.
- Bad weather: Failure to adapt to bad weather is the cause of about 1.5 million collisions, 7,000 fatalities and 800,000 injuries each year in the U.S.
- Speeding: Speeding is a factor in 13 percent of all collisions and one-third of all traffic fatalities.
- No safety belt: Contributes to 5,000 fatalities each year. Safety belt use is especially important for children; collisions are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 14.
- Understeering in corners: Speeding often contributes to this error, especially on two-lane secondary roads. Drivers entering a curve too fast often panic, lose control and swerve off the roadway.
- Oversteering in corners: Like understeering, but with the opposite result: the vehicle can spin out or swerve into an oncoming lane.
- Road rage: Tailgating, abrupt lane changes and other forms of aggressive driving often provoke responses that can quickly spiral into dangerous confrontations.
- Poor vision: Outdated lenses or bad eyesight create serious risks, especially at night when the fatality rate is three times higher than during the day.
- Drowsy driving: Distracted driving is the cause of 80 percent of all collisions, and sleepiness is one of its most dangerous forms.
Driving While Distracted
Since January 1st, the use of handheld cell phones while driving has been illegal in Oregon. The new law assumes that the margin of safety is improved by leaving both hands free to grip the steering wheel. Based on my own unscientific survey, it appears that most drivers are in compliance.
Cell phone use is only one of many distractions that reduce driver awareness, causing an estimated 6,000 fatalities nationwide in 2008. Others include text messaging, drowsiness, playing CDs, eating, tinkering with radios and talking with passengers.
Of these distractions, text messaging is the most dangerous. On average, drivers take their eyes off the road for five seconds to make each entry. At freeway speeds, a vehicle travels the length of a football field and both end zones during that time. Nationally, texting is a factor in about 3 percent of crashes each year. Given the extreme risks, it’s likely that rest of the U.S. will soon join Oregon and a few other states that already prohibit texting while driving.
A ban on texting is a no-brainer. But is a hands-free cell phone actually safer than the handheld variety? Almost certainly not, according to national studies. Drivers on cell phones, whether handheld or hands-free, are four times more likely to be involved in a collision than other drivers. Cell phone use is a factor in 25 percent (1.4 million) of all crashes each year, causing thousands of deaths and injuries and an economic cost of $43 billion.
A driver talking with a passenger has a clear advantage over one involved in a cell phone conversation: the passenger can help the driver adapt to changing conditions. Studies show that talking to a passenger is much less dangerous than even a hands-free cell phone conversation.
While Oregonians can lawfully use cell phones with a hands-free device, the convenience of this form of communication may not be worth the serious risk it creates for everyone on the highways.
Merging and Jamitons
Sometimes the cause of a traffic jam is clear: a collision, a disabled vehicle, construction or weather. But drivers often find themselves stuck in “phantom” traffic jams (called “jamitons” by researchers): long lines of vehicles that slow abruptly to a crawl, for no apparent reason, and finally accelerate back to normal speeds after lengthy delays.
In theory, a highway should be at peak efficiency when traffic volumes approach its design capacity. But even minor fluctuations in traffic flow can cause a ripple effect that spreads miles upstream into a prolonged jamiton.
For example, consider what often happens at freeway on-ramps in dense traffic. Vehicles entering the freeway are accelerating and their drivers are looking for a place to merge into the travel lanes. Drivers already on the freeway, who have the legal right-of-way, are reluctant to slow down or provide an opening for merging traffic, especially for trucks or other slow-moving vehicles. Faced with the prospect of being forced onto the shoulder as the on-ramp ends, merging drivers will often pull into one of the travel lanes even if they haven’t matched the speed of traffic.
A jamiton can quickly result as the driver behind the merging vehicle taps the brakes, or sometimes brakes hard, to adapt. Even small reductions in speed can be amplified backwards as drivers behind the merging vehicle adjust – and sometimes overreact with hard braking because they were tailgating.
Studies suggest that jamitons could be reduced if drivers:
1) Allow enough space for merging vehicles to change lanes at safe speeds; and,
2) Leave a safe “cushion” between vehicles to avoid excessive braking when traffic slows.
Drivers have a choice. We can charge ahead through traffic, seeking any small advantage in the hope of reaching our destination a few minutes sooner, or we can act cooperatively to ensure the smooth “blending” of vehicles at on-ramps, reducing the risks from unsafe merging and the avoidable delays caused by jamitons.
“Shared Space” in Kathmandu
The “shared space” movement in city planning is based on the idea that streets should be designed to integrate, rather than separate, motor vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. Instead of depending on traffic lights, signage and lane markings to regulate traffic flow, proponents argue that safety is increased when street users interact with one another and “negotiate” their progress. Shared space” experiments have been undertaken in Holland, Germany and England, and to a limited extent in the U.S.
Overreliance on signs and traffic lights can make drivers complacent and less aware of their surroundings. A less-regulated “shared space” creates uncertainty and a sense of danger that requires drivers and pedestrians to be more alert.
Recently I witnessed a form of “shared space” traffic management during a visit to Kathmandu, the bustling capital of Nepal. “Management” may not be quite the right word for the chaos on that city’s streets, with cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, bicycles, rickshaws, pedestrians, tractors, cows, dogs and goats “negotiating” their way without benefit of traffic lights, signs, crosswalks or lane markings. We saw just three traffic lights in a city of nearly a million people and scant evidence of traffic officers even at major intersections.
Traffic moves slowly, but far more smoothly than you’d expect in the total absence of regulation. Drivers communicate constantly, usually with short toots of their horns and frequent eye contact. Vehicles and pedestrians probe their way through the dense traffic in an intense competition for the right-of-way and a few extra feet. Distances between vehicles are measured in inches rather than car lengths, as we do here.
Serious collisions are rare because speeds are relatively low and drivers are very alert. I never saw a single driver on a cellphone in Kathmandu, nor did I witness any incidents of road rage. Nepalis might envy the greater speeds and efficiencies of our urban streets, but their system of “shared space” has some undeniable advantages.
Shortcuts That Can Cost Time and Money
Impatient drivers often take shortcuts that save little time but create hazards for other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists or themselves. These hasty maneuvers can also result in traffic citations and fines. Three common examples:
With each of these gambles, any gains in time and convenience are more than offset by the
risks and potential fines.
- You’re stuck in a line of cars at a red light and plan to turn right at the intersection. A business on the corner has a parking lot that connects to the desired street, so you cut across the lot to save a few seconds. But there are two problems: First, drivers attempting this type of shortcut often cross parking lots too quickly, endangering pedestrians and the occupants of other vehicles. Second, most Oregon cities, including Tigard, have an ordinance that prohibits cutting across private property to avoid a traffic control device ($260 fine).
- You’re sitting in a line of cars at an intersection and the light turns green. It’s a busy afternoon and the traffic inches forward. The green light is already “stale” when you finally reach the intersection. Cars are backed up over the crosswalk on the far side, but you’d rather not sit through another cycle of the light. So you accelerate across the intersection, gambling that the cars ahead will make room for you. But you lose and end up stuck in the intersection, blocking cross traffic. Instead of saving time, you’ve contributed to gridlock and risked getting a citation for obstructing cross traffic (fine $110).
- It’s raining hard as you enter a supermarket parking lot, intending to buy a few items and hurry through the express checkout. The lot is two-thirds full, but there’s a vacant disabled-parking space near the door. You park in the striped unloading area that’s part of one of these spaces, finish your shopping and return to find a citation on your windshield with a $160 fine.
Although traffic violations are dispersed over many of Tigard’s streets, there are certain locations where enforcement is concentrated due to high traffic volumes, citizen requests or the frequency of crashes. These currently include:
Citations for “Following too closely” on Highway 217: This violation, often combined with excessive speed, is the most common cause of collisions. Drivers who fail to leave enough room between themselves and the vehicle in front of them will be unable to stop in time to avoid a crash.
Violations of the “Right Turn Only” signs at SW Greenburg Road and SW Center Street (near 99W): For a short side-street, this intersection has a surprisingly high incidence of collisions. Drivers who violate the well-marked turn restriction risk an accident and a citation.* They can also block the intersection and contribute to traffic congestion.
Speeding on SW Walnut Street between SW 121st and SW Gaarde Street: Excessive speeds are common in this hilly residential area despite the number of side streets and driveways, not to mention the recent opening of Fire Station 50 near Jack Park. The speed limit on this portion of Walnut is 30 mph, lowering to 20 mph on school days farther east near Fowler Middle School.
Speeding on SW Tiedeman Avenue between SW Tigard and SW Walnut streets, a residential neighborhood with a posted 25 mph limit and signs warning that it is strictly enforced.
Speeding and center left-turn-lane violations on SW 72nd.
Speeding on the 99W viaduct between SW Greenburg Road and Johnson: Although the posted limit for the viaduct is 35 mph, excessive speeds (up to 70 mph in one case) are common.
Illegal U-turns in front of Costco near SW Dartmouth and SW Atlanta, even though the area is clearly marked with signs. Oregon’s strict U-turn law would prohibit such turns at this location even without the reminder offered by the signs.
Lane violations at both ends of the southbound on-ramp from Highway 217 to Interstate 5. “Late mergers” often commit violations by making unsafe lane changes or driving over the fog line during busy periods.
Obstructing cross traffic at various locations along Highway 99W and SW Boones Ferry Road.
Please note that traffic enforcement priorities can quickly change with the needs of the community. Now that schools have reopened, for example, nearby streets are likely to receive more attention.
The High Price of Speeding
Under Oregon law, speeding is defined in two ways: exceeding the posted limit or driving too fast for conditions, including weather, traffic, visibility and the surface and width of the highway. The Oregon Department of Transportation has recently documented some of the consequences of speeding in our state:
New technologies make it easier for police officers to detect speeding and tailgating violations. Laser devices have very narrow beams that permit officers to pick vehicles out of a line of cars. At a distance of 1,000 feet, for example, a laser beam is only three feet wide. In “distance between cars” mode, a laser can accurately measure the speeds and distance between two vehicles.
- Speeding is the primary cause of traffic deaths and injuries. Last year, about 50% of the 416 traffic fatalities in Oregon resulted from speeding, far higher than the national average of 30%.
- The estimated cost of speed-related crashes in Oregon in 2008 was $700 million, not counting the loss of life.
- In 2008, 40% of those killed in speed-related collisions in Oregon were innocent victims or passengers, not speeding drivers.
- Tailgating, which often involves a speeding driver following another vehicle too closely, is the leading cause of collisions in Oregon.
- Last year, 376 drivers were cited for exceeding 100 mph, resulting in minimum fines of $1,103 and mandatory license suspensions. Since 2006, stricter laws and the threat of license suspensions may have contributed to a 30% reduction in the number of drivers who exceed 100 mph on Oregon highways.
- Airbags and seat belts become increasingly less effective as speeds exceed 35 mph.
- The time saved by speeding is negligible. If a driver travels at 60 mph in a 45 mph zone for ten miles, he or she takes additional risks for a gain of less than three minutes.
Illegal Windows, Plates and Lights
Over 6,000 traffic violations were filed in our court during 2008. About one-third were for speeding and disobeying traffic control devices, mainly red lights and stop signs. While these and various other moving violations dominate our caseload every year, drivers are often cited for offenses that are less familiar, including:
If you’re cited for an equipment violation, be sure to fix the problem before your court date. If you install tinting material on your windows, you should obtain and carry the certificate of compliance required by Oregon law.
- Tinted windows ($260 fine): Oregon law prohibits tinting that allows less than 35% of visible light to be transmitted through rear and side windows. Front windshields may be tinted within a six-inch band along the top. Illegal tinting can pose a serious risk to police officers conducting traffic stops, since they may not be able to detect weapons in a car as they approach it. At night and on cloudy days, darkened windows can hinder a driver’s ability to see pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles.
- Failure to display plates ($110 fine): Oregon law requires license plates to be “in plain view” on the “front and rear” of all vehicles. A plate on a dashboard is not on the “front” of the vehicle. Some drivers have admitted that they removed their front plate to make it harder for photo-enforcement cameras to identify them, but that strategy is ineffective: the photos capture both the front and rear of each offending vehicle.
- Unlawful use of lights ($260 fine): Fog lights and other auxiliary lights are treated exactly like high beams under Oregon law. They must be dimmed or turned off within 500 feet of approaching vehicles and 350 feet behind another vehicle.
Most judges will consider reducing fines for equipment violations, or in some cases even dismiss the citation, if proof of compliance is submitted to the court by mail or in person.
Consider the following facts from a recent trial in our court: “Dan” was stopped at a red light late at night on a city street in his new car. The speed limit was 40 mph and there were no other cars in the vicinity. When the light turned green, Dan leaned hard on the gas pedal and accelerated rapidly, but he didn’t lose control of his vehicle or exceed the speed limit.
A police officer observed the incident and issued Dan a citation under an Oregon statute that prohibits “Speed racing on a highway” (ORS 811.125), a serious traffic violation subject to a presumptive fine of $435. Dan entered a plea of “not guilty.”
At his trial, Dan testified: “But I wasn’t even speeding, and there were no other cars around.” Two of his passengers corroborated Dan’s testimony, and the citing officer agreed.
The result? Dan was found guilty and fined even though he wasn’t racing another vehicle and never went above the posted limit. Why? Because his jackrabbit start violated a subsection of the “speed racing” law that prohibits “an exhibition of speed or acceleration.”
Oregon’s “speed racing” statute is complicated, with seven subsections. In addition to the subsection that Dan violated, it also prohibits:
Fortunately, drivers in Tigard are rarely cited under the portion of the law that bans
drag racing—an extremely dangerous activity on any public street. However, drivers like
Dan need to be aware that any form of horseplay on the highway can be unsafe and may
result in a costly citation.
- A traditional drag race, which is defined as two or more vehicles accelerating “from a point side by side” in a “competitive attempt to outdistance each other.”
- Any other speed or acceleration contest;
- Any test of a driver’s physical endurance or stamina, such as stage rallies over defined long-distance routes; or,
- Attempting to make a speed record.
Let’s say you’re entering a typical urban freeway that’s congested with rush-hour traffic. You find that your acceleration lane is nearly empty for hundreds of yards before it merges with the right lane. What’s the best way to enter the flow of traffic in this situation?
You have two options:
While there’s a natural tendency to view the “late mergers” as aggressive and unethical cheats, a traffic engineer might argue that they help everyone by making the most efficient use of all the available highway space. An empty lane isn’t doing its share of moving traffic towards its destination. Nonetheless, other drivers are likely to view late merging as a provocation, sometimes leading to serious incidents of road rage.
- You can try to merge quickly into the left lane, slowing if necessary until someone lets you enter. In so doing, you may risk blocking (and annoying) drivers behind you and slowing traffic even further. Or,
- You can continue down the highway until you near the end of your lane, hoping to gain some precious time by passing some of your “competition.”
If drivers choose late merging and no one allows them to enter, they risk crossing over the fog line onto the shoulder at the “pinch point,” a violation of Oregon law. If drivers cut off another vehicle while merging, they disobey another requirement to “refrain from moving from [a] lane until the driver has first made certain that the movement can be made with safety.” Each violation is subject to a $260 presumptive fine.
The Oregon Driver Manual offers this advice: “If you are entering a freeway from a merging lane, you must yield to traffic already on the freeway. If you already are on the freeway, you are obligated to help merging traffic. Adjust your speed to permit a safe, smooth merge.” This ideal of seamless “zippering” requires a level of cooperation and communication that Oregon drivers should cultivate.
Red Means Stop
Oregon drivers faced with an amber traffic light are required to stop, with only one exception: if they are unable to stop safely, drivers may proceed “cautiously” through the intersection. However, that exception doesn’t apply to red lights, where a full stop is always required.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that drivers who failed to obey traffic lights caused 171,000 collisions in the U.S. during 2005, resulting in 887 fatalities and 144,000 injuries. In urban areas, it’s the leading cause of fatal collisions, primarily due to the special dangers posed by broadside (“T-bone”) impacts. Since fewer than half of all vehicles are equipped with side-curtain airbags, head trauma is the most common cause of death or injury.
Red-light violations are often intentional, the result of drivers accelerating when faced with a “stale” amber light. According to one study reported in the Ladies Home Journal, a red-light violation occurs, on average, once in every three cycles of a traffic light. The most common reason, according to the researcher, was that drivers were “in a hurry.” In a 2002 national survey, one in five drivers admitted to disobeying a red light in the last ten intersections they crossed.
Not surprisingly, heavy traffic volumes are closely associated with higher frequencies of red-light violations. The reason seems clear enough: impatient drivers seek to minimize the delays caused by traffic lights, especially if they’ve already had to sit through one or more cycles at a congested intersection. These drivers may feel that they’ve “paid their dues” and don’t deserve to sit through yet another cycle.
Finally, Oregon drivers are permitted to turn right after stopping at a red light if they can do so safely. The law clearly defines “stop” as the “complete cessation from movement.” My own observation is that many drivers don’t bother to complete the required stop before turning. They should: all traffic-light violations are subject to a presumptive fine of $260.
Source: Ladies Home Journal
Are You Moving? If So, Tell DMV!
Oregon drivers and vehicle owners are required to change their addresses with DMV no later than 30 days after relocating.
Violations are subject to a presumptive fine of $110.
While this requirement may seem unimportant, failure to comply can lead to serious consequences. Consider this example:
Suppose that “Don” moves and changes his address at the post office, but neglects to directly notify DMV. A few months later, he’s involved in a minor collision. The drivers exchange the required information but don’t file an accident report with DMV because it appears that neither car sustained more than $1,500 in property damage.
A few days later, though, the other driver learns that the damage to her vehicle exceeded $1,500. She then files a report, triggering a requirement that Don do the same. So DMV sends a letter informing Don that his right to drive in Oregon will be suspended if he doesn’t file his report by a specified date.
But Don never gets the letter, since DMV never received notice of his address change. So Don doesn’t file the report and DMV suspends his license. He is also suspended for a full year because DMV assumes that he was an uninsured driver when the collision occurred.
Don remains blissfully unaware of these problems. But then, a couple months later, he’s stopped for driving with
expired tags. The result? A citation charging him with driving while suspended ($435 fine), expired registration ($110),
and failure to change his address for his license ($110) and registration ($110). And his car is
impounded, at an additional cost of $250 plus storage fees.
As a result of his simple failure to change his address with DMV, Don faces presumptive fines totaling $765.
In court, Don can’t claim the “lack of notice” defense if he failed to inform DMV of an address change.
Enough said. The change of address form is available at DMV offices and
online at: www.oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/dv/chgaddress.shtml
All About WES
Beginning this month, TriMet’s Westside Express Service (WES) commuter rail line will connect downtown Tigard with the Beaverton Transit Center and Wilsonville. Commuter trains will run every half hour on weekdays during the morning and afternoon rush hours and can reach speeds up to 60 mph.
The Tigard Transit Center will provide over 100 free “Park & Ride” spaces for cars, with racks and lockers for bicycles. WES will provide a convenient and efficient alternative to I-5 and Highway 217.
The WES tracks, which will continue to be used by freight trains, cross 40 intersections on the 15-mile route. Each crossing will be protected by sophisticated gates that will reduce delays and the potential for conflicts with vehicle and pedestrian traffic. However, motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians need to be aware that trains can require 18 football fields or more to come to a stop.
Oregon’s Rules of the Road impose some common-sense requirements for railroad crossings:
Violation of these rules may subject drivers and bicyclists to a presumptive fine of $260.
- Stop immediately when you encounter signal lights and a lowering crossing gate. Don’t try to beat a train or drive around gates. WES trains move very quickly, so any delay will likely be brief.
- Be aware that certain vehicles, including school buses and “high-risk” trucks, are required to stop before crossing railroad tracks. Don’t tailgate.
- In heavy traffic, don’t attempt to cross tracks unless you’re certain that there’s sufficient space for your vehicle on the other side without blocking trains. A train may not be able to stop before colliding with a car that’s stranded on the tracks.
If you’re stopped in a line of cars at a lowered gate, remember that Oregon law strictly limits U-turns in urban areas, including all U-turns “between intersections.” Be patient.
WES trains, like their cousins on the MAX lines, are very quiet. Be aware and follow this basic safety rule: Always expect a train.
Oregon’s Graduated Driver’s License
As a 16-year-old, many years ago, I only had to jump two hurdles to get a full driver’s license: completing a driver’s education program and passing a DMV exam. Despite my inexperience, my new license gave me the same driving privileges that my parents and other adults enjoyed.
Since then, Oregon and most other states have adopted graduated licensing (GL) programs that impose restrictions on teen drivers. Oregon law now limits the hours when teens may drive, the number and ages of their passengers, and their use of cell phones and text messaging.
GL is based on a vast body of research that shows elevated risks for teen drivers and their passengers. While teenagers have certain advantages over older drivers, including quicker reaction times and better eye-hand coordination, those advantages are offset by inexperience and social or developmental factors. Nationwide studies show that:
GL is intended to reduce these disproportionately high rates of teen crashes, injuries and fatalities. And it seems to be working: since 2000, when GL was adopted in Oregon, the number of fatalities and crashes has decreased by about one-third.
- For each mile driven, drivers aged 16-19 are four times more likely to crash their vehicles than older drivers. The risk is even higher during nighttime hours and weekends.
- Nearly 5,000 teenagers were victims of fatal crashes in 2007. About two-thirds of the victims were male drivers and their male passengers.
- Most teenage passenger deaths in 2007 occurred in vehicles driven by another teenager.
- 16-year-old drivers are twice as likely to be involved in a crash as 18-19 year-olds.
- Three out of four fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds are the result of driver error, far higher than the rate for older drivers.
- About 40% of fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds are caused by speeding, nearly twice the rate for older drivers.
[Data Sources: The Oregon Parent Guide to Teen Driving and the Highway Loss Data Institute]
Doing the Math
About 45% of drivers fail to fully comply with stop signs, resulting in more than 700,000 collisions each year, according to various nationwide studies. Since these collisions are often broadside, about one-third result in injuries and more than 3,000 are fatal.
Under Oregon law, a “stop” is defined as “the complete cessation from movement.” A “rolling stop,” commonly known as a “California stop,” clearly doesn’t conform to that requirement. After you make a full stop, you’re also required to yield to other vehicles “in the intersection or approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard” before proceeding.
Stop signs and traffic lights slow us down and frustrate our natural desire to make rapid progress toward our destinations. Haste, and the frustration caused by delays, are major contributing factors in numerous traffic violations and many of the 160,000 reportable collisions that occur in Oregon each year.
How much time do drivers actually save by disobeying stop signs? Not much, if you do the math. Suppose you encounter an average of a dozen stop signs each day. Assume that you perform a “California stop” at jogging speed (about 5 m.p.h.) at each one. How much time do you gain? Less than a minute per day.
A full stop is also required before turning right on a red light, where it’s permitted. Many pedestrians are injured by drivers who look to the left, but fail to check the crosswalk to the right, before making their turn.
By fully complying with stop signs and traffic lights, you can reinforce safe driving habits and avoid a $260 ticket. A lawful stop allows you to carefully scan the intersection and assess the speed and intentions of approaching vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians before proceeding.
By obeying stop signs and traffic signals, drivers lose very little time and substantially increase the margin of safety for themselves and everyone else on our streets.
[Data Source: National Traffic Highway Safety Administration]
Driving and Alcohol Don’t Mix
[Data Source: Traffic, by John Vanderbilt (2008)]
Alcoholic beverages are a traditional part of many holiday celebrations. Despite massive publicity about the dangers of alcohol, many motorists remain convinced that they can drive safely after a few drinks because they’re not “drunk.”
Oregon law prohibits “Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants” (DUII), not “drunk driving.” Drivers can be DUII without being “drunk” or “intoxicated” in the usual sense. In fact, a driver is considered DUII if a breath test reveals a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. Alcohol or drug impairment can also be shown by standard field-sobriety tests like walking a straight line.
Decades ago, Oregon lowered its BAC limit from 0.10% to 0.08%. But a BAC of 0.08% may still be too high for safe driving. One study showed that the risk of collision increases with BAC levels as low as 0.02%, one-fourth the legal limit. A driver’s skills may be impaired by BAC levels far below what we ordinarily consider “drunkenness.”
The risk of alcohol-related collisions is greatly increased between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and on holidays. Drivers above the legal BAC limit are thirteen times more likely to be involved in fatal collisions than sober drivers during those hours. Even drivers with legally-permissible BAC levels (under 0.08%) are seven times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than nondrinking drivers.
A first conviction for DUII in Oregon can result in a maximum sentence of a year in jail, a $6,250 fine (or $10,000 if a minor was in the car) and a 1-year license suspension. For drivers under 21, Oregon has a “zero-tolerance” standard: any BAC level above 0.00% results in a lengthy license suspension even if there’s no DUII conviction.
Does $6,250 sound like an unreasonable fine for driving under the influence? Not when you consider that two economists, adding up the actual costs imposed by DUII drivers nationally, estimate that a more appropriate fine would be $8,000.
School Zones and School Buses
Q. When do I have to stop for school buses?
A. When a school bus flashes its orange lights you should prepare to stop whether you’re following or approaching the bus. When the red lights and stop arm are activated, you must stop immediately and remain stopped until the lights go off and the arm is retracted.
The rule applies on highways with two or more lanes, including Pacific Highway in Tigard, unless there’s an unpaved
median strip or a barrier that divides the roadway. Violations are subject to a presumptive fine of $435. Violation details can be found on the city’s web.
Q. What are the penalties for school-zone speeding violations?
A. Fines double. For example, the presumptive fine for speeding 11-20 mph over the limit is $260.
Q. What is the school-zone speed limit and when does it apply?
A. The speed for designated school zones is 20 mph. It applies whenever:
Q. What about school crosswalks?
- A yellow flashing light on a school speed-limit sign indicates that children may be arriving at or leaving school; OR
- A sign indicates that you’re entering a school zone and it’s between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a day when school is in session.
- If you’re not sure whether “school is in session,” reduce your speed to 20 mph as a precaution.
A. The 20 mph speed limit also applies at marked “school crosswalks” if children are present OR if there’s a flashing light that indicates children may be arriving at or leaving school. Note that a marked “school crosswalk” may not be adjacent to school grounds.
Q. What does “when children are present” at a crosswalk mean?
A. Children are “present” under Oregon law when:
- Children are “occupying or walking within a crosswalk;” OR,
- Children are “waiting on the curb or shoulder of the highway at a crosswalk;” OR
- When a “traffic patrol member is present to assist children” at a crosswalk.
Distractions on the Road
Traffic “accidents” are extremely rare. Vehicle collisions, on the other hand, are all too common. What’s the difference?
Most dictionaries define accident with terms like “lack of intention,” “unexpected” or “anything that happens by chance.” Lightning strikes, for example, are very rare in western Oregon and could be considered true accidents. But vehicle collisions are, almost without exception, the result of someone’s negligence or inattention.
Drivers cited for following too closely, for example, often argue that they didn’t “intend” to tailgate the vehicle that they rear-ended. Often they were distracted for only a few seconds, maybe to answer a cellphone or change stations on the radio. When they glanced back at the road, traffic had stopped unexpectedly.
Depending on road and traffic conditions, a few seconds of inattention may prevent a driver from braking in time to avoid a crash. It’s entirely foreseeable that a distracted driver could have a collision. Under Oregon law, that’s negligence (and a violation of the Rules of the Road) rather than a random accident. Nearly all accidents are the result of negligence or a related failure to comply with traffic laws.
Studies have shown that distracted drivers cause anywhere from 25 to 50% of vehicle collisions. Common distractions include driver fatigue, rubbernecking to look at collisions, sightseeing, other passengers or children, tinkering with electronic entertainments (radios, CD players, iPods), eating and drinking, cellphones and text-messaging, smoking and, incredibly enough, reading (maps, books, newspapers).
Cellphone use alone quadruples the risk of collisions, and Oregon law now prohibits their use (as well as text-messaging) by drivers under 18 who have a provisional license or permit. Predictably, the use of alcohol or drugs impairs coordination and intensifies the effects of any distractions.
Our preference for the word “accident” is unfortunate. It minimizes personal responsibility for collisions that might have been avoided through the exercise of due care. Let’s start talking about “collisions” and how best to avoid them.
Nuisance Code Violations
Like most cities in Oregon, Tigard has a municipal code that requires property owners
to prevent neighborhood nuisances that may be unsightly or create health and safety
hazards. Nuisances can arise throughout the year, but vegetation problems are
greatest during the growing season.
What are some typical neighborhood nuisances under the Tigard Municipal Code (TMC)?
According to the TMC, the following items must be stored in an enclosed storage facility,
building or garbage receptacle?
- Noxious vegetation such as grass or weeds more than 10 inches in height, whether in yards or on parking strips along the right-of-way.
- Blackberry bushes that extend over a property line or right-of-way.
- Vegetation that impairs the view of a public thoroughfare or otherwise makes use of the thoroughfare hazardous.
- Trees that pose a safety hazard or tree branches or bushes that interfere with street or sidewalk traffic. Trees should be trimmed to a height of at least 8 feet above the sidewalk and 10 feet above the street.
- Accumulations of debris, rubbish, garbage or other materials that are unsanitary, unsightly or unsafe or create offensive odors detectable beyond the property line.
Who may be responsible for violations of the nuisance code?
- Inoperable, partially dismantled automobiles, trucks, bus, trailer or other vehicle equipment or parts that are in a state of disrepair.
- Used or dismantled household appliances, furniture, other discards or junk.
A responsible party is any person charged with curing or remedying a nuisance,
including the property’s owner, tenant, person having possession or any other
person in control of the property on behalf of the owner such as an agent or manager.
What are the penalties for violations?
For detailed information on penalties, see Tigard Municipal Code
sections 1.16-630 — 1.16.710.
Sharing the Streets with Bicyclists
Bicycles are subject to the same traffic laws as motorized vehicles. But in any encounter with a fast-moving car weighing a ton or more, cyclists are vulnerable to serious or fatal injuries.
Motorists need to be aware of the following:
Cyclists, in turn, should respect:
- “Right-hook” and “left-hook” collisions: Drivers can easily underestimate the speed of bicycles. A common cause of collisions is the failure of drivers to check the position of a bicycle after passing it. A cyclist may catch up to a car as it makes a turn, cutting off the bicycle and causing a dangerous collision. The risk is increased when the driver fails to signal a turn at least 100 feet in advance.
- Basic courtesy: Drivers should give cyclists as much room as safety allows, refrain from blowing horns and never tailgate.
- Car doors: Cyclists are frequently injured in collisions with car doors. Drivers and passengers should always check the adjacent travel lane or bike lane before opening doors. Cyclists don’t always have the option of safely riding outside the “door zone.”
- Crosswalks: Cyclists are entitled to use crosswalks in the same manner as pedestrians. On busy arterials like Tigard’s Pacific Highway, they may provide the safest way to cross.
Here’s a workable rule of thumb for everyone:
- Traffic-control devices: Cyclists are required to obey traffic lights and stop signs.
- Defensive riding: Cyclists need to anticipate the risks described above. Not all drivers obey the law.
- Visibility: Bright, reflective clothing and lights are essential. The sooner a driver becomes aware of a cyclist’s presence, the easier it is to avoid dangerous encounters.
- Scanning: Like motorists, cyclists should constantly scan their surroundings for potential dangers like speeding or turning vehicles and opening car doors. Be aware of escape routes in case of an emergency.
If in doubt, yield—even if you have the legal right-of-way.
Thanks to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance
Oregon’s Rules of the Road encourage drivers to exercise due care by driving defensively and anticipating problems. But some road hazards are so dangerous that laws have been specially devised to address them, including:
Each of the above violations is subject to a $260 presumptive fine, though work-zone violations are subject to double fines. Fines also increase if a violation contributes to a collision.
- Emergency vehicles on highway shoulders: If you’re driving on a four-lane highway and see a police vehicle or ambulance on the shoulder with its lights activated, you must move out of the lane next to that vehicle. If you can’t change lanes safely, slow down and allow plenty of room as you pass. On a two-lane highway with traffic in both directions, you must slow down. Failure to follow this rule is a frequent cause of injuries and fatalities among police officers.
- Emergency vehicles on the highway: If there’s an emergency vehicle behind you with its lights or siren activated, you must pull over to the right and stop until the vehicle passes you. Be sure to move right on freeways as well, since the left shoulder may not be wide enough to keep your car from blocking the travel lane. A life could be lost if an emergency vehicle is delayed for even a minute in reaching its destination.
- Following emergency vehicles: Aggressive drivers sometimes follow ambulances through heavy traffic, trying to take advantage of their right-of way. Oregon law requires you to allow at least 500 feet between your vehicle and any emergency vehicle whose lights are activated. At 50 mph, that equals about six seconds.
- Highway work zones: As roadwork increases over the coming months, drivers need to be aware of the dangers to construction workers and themselves in work zones. Traffic flaggers have the legal right to direct vehicles and initiate citations against violators.
Safe Driving in Heavy Traffic
Sluggish traffic quickly leads to haste and frustration, clouding a driver’s
judgment. Drivers who don’t allow enough time to reach their destinations
often make poor choices that result in collisions and citations. Typical
violations on congested highways include:
Once free of traffic congestion, drivers often speed to make up for lost time.
But a car traveling the 7-mile length of Highway 217, from I-5 to Highway 26,
saves only 96 seconds by speeding at 70 mph compared to obeying the 55-mph limit.
- Failure to obey traffic lights and stop signs ($260 fine): You must stop on a yellow light if you can do so safely. If not, you may drive cautiously though the intersection. At stop signs, the law requires “the complete cessation from movement” (ORS 801.510), which only takes a few extra seconds compared to a rolling “California stop.”
- Obstructing cross traffic ($110 fine): Oregon law prohibits entering an intersection “when there is not sufficient space on the other side” to avoid blocking other vehicles or pedestrians (ORS 811.290). Obstructing an intersection delays traffic even more and creates a risk of collisions.
- Dangerous left turns ($260 fine): Many collisions occur when a driver turns left across two oncoming lanes in dense traffic. The driver in the lane closest to you may stop and wave you through, but take a few extra seconds before turning to make sure that there are no approaching vehicles in the far lane.
- Driving on the shoulder, bike lane or center lane ($260 fine): With few exceptions, Oregon law prohibits using the center lane or side of a highway as a travel lane or to pass other vehicles.
If you have an appointment during the hours of heavy traffic, pretend that it
starts at least fifteen minutes earlier than the actual time. Then you’ll
have a reasonable chance of getting there safely, on time—and without a citation.
U-Turns...When in Doubt, Don’t!
Suppose you’re driving down an unfamiliar residential street in Tigard and
realize that you made a wrong turn at a traffic signal a few blocks back.
There’s a stop sign at an intersection a quarter mile ahead of you, but
there are no other vehicles on the road for at least 500 feet in either direction.
Can you legally make a U-turn?
Under Oregon law, the clear answer is “no.” The Rules of the Road prohibit U-turns
“between intersections” in a city (ORS 811.365). U-turns are also prohibited
in intersections controlled by an “electrical signal” (traffic light) unless
an official sign permits them.
Can you drive up to the stop sign and make a U-turn within that intersection?
Yes, apparently, as long as approaching drivers can see you from a distance
of at least 500 feet.
There are few places in urban areas where U-turns are permitted under Oregon law.
Violations are subject to a presumptive fine of $160, or $260 if the illegal turn
“contributes to an accident.”
In areas “outside a city,” the law is less strict. You can make a U-turn
if approaching drivers can see you from a distance of at least 1,000 feet
“from either direction.”
In just about every state, a U-turn is defined as turning a vehicle
“so as to proceed in the opposite direction.” Compared to its neighbors,
though, Oregon has a very restrictive U-turn law as well as relatively low
speed limits on freeways.
Why aren’t traffic laws uniform from state to state? With a few exceptions,
like the former “federal maximum speed limit” of 55 mph, traffic laws have
traditionally been left to the states. In a highly mobile society, however,
it may not be realistic for drivers to familiarize themselves with Oregon’s
772-page Vehicle Code before they enter its borders. The safest rule may be:
if there’s even the slightest doubt that it’s legal, don’t make that U-turn.
Following Too Closely
It can happen to anyone: You’re driving down a busy freeway at 50 m.p.h. and
turn your attention away from the road for just a second, maybe to insert a
CD in the stereo. You look back up and see nothing but brake lights. The
adrenaline surges as you move your foot onto the brake pedal. The car in
front of you barely stops in time to avoid a collision. Can you?
Let’s do the math. At 50 m.p.h., you’re moving at 73 feet per second.
You’ll need 1.5 seconds to react and apply your foot to the brake.
During that time you’ll travel 110 feet. You’ll need an additional
119 feet to stop, for a total distance of 229 feet.
Is that enough? The answer largely depends on how closely you were
following the car ahead of you. That single second of distraction
could make the difference between a near miss and a collision. If
you were two seconds (or 146 feet) back, you may be able to stop—on
dry pavement. A separation of just one second might not be enough.
Oregon law prohibits following another vehicle “more closely than is
reasonable and prudent,” considering the “speed of the vehicles and
the traffic upon, and condition of, the highway” (ORS 811.485).
A violation is subject to a presumptive fine of $260, even if there’s no
collision. The Oregon Driver Manual suggests that a distance of
at least two to four seconds is a workable rule of thumb.
The Tigard Police Department has acquired a new “distance-between
cars” (“DBC”) technology that offers objective evidence of
violations. It allows a laser speed-measurement device to detect
the precise time and distance between two vehicles as well as their
speed. To do your own low-tech “DBC” check, simply count the seconds
(“one thousand one…”) that separate you from the vehicle ahead of
you as you pass a fixed point on the highway.
Turning at Intersections
With its heavy traffic load, the intersection of Hall Boulevard and Pacific Highway is
the scene of frequent traffic violations and collisions. One of the most common
violations is “Improperly executed left turn” (ORS 811.340), which is subject to a
$260 presumptive fine. Oregon law requires drivers to “leave the intersection or other
location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in
the same direction as such vehicle on the roadway being entered.”
If you’re driving south on Hall and make a left turn onto Pacific, for example,
you must enter the far left (“fast”) lane and not the right (“curb”) lane.
You can then, after signaling for the required 100 feet, carefully merge
into the curb lane if you wish.
One purpose of the left-turn rule is to make the movement of vehicles
more predictable and efficient. If you’re driving north on Hall and
want to make a lawful right turn at Pacific on a red light, you can’t
do so safely if vehicles turning left from the opposite direction are
entering the curb lane instead of the left lane.
Note that I referred to “collisions” rather than “accidents” in the first
paragraph. True “accidents” are rare. “Collisions” are far more common,
and they’re almost always the result of someone’s negligent driving.
Thanks to: Tigard resident William Moss for this “Rules of the Road” suggestion.
Six “Non-Defenses” to Speeding Tickets
Each year the Tigard Municipal Court receives over 6,000 traffic citations, of which
about 26% are for speeding. If a driver pleads “not guilty,” the case is set for trial
before a judge. While every case has unique facts, drivers often raise “defenses”
to speeding that are generally not recognized under Oregon law, including:
Oregon’s speed laws are found in sections 811.100 through 811.124 of the Oregon Revised
Statutes. You can access these statutes through the Municipal Court’s web page,
or ask at the 2nd floor Reference Desk at the Library.
- “I was going with the flow of traffic.” The fact that other vehicles may have been exceeding the limit doesn’t justify going faster than the posted speed. Also, drivers cannot legally exceed the speed limit simply because another vehicle is tailgating them.
- “I admit to speeding, but I wasn’t going 75.” You’re in violation of Oregon law whenever you exceed the limit, even if you don’t intend to speed because, for example, your speedometer was malfunctioning. The basic legal question is whether you were exceeding the limit. If you’re convicted, your speed is a factor in setting the fine.
- “I sped up to pass another car (or merge).” Oregon law doesn’t authorize exceeding the speed limit to pass or merge with other vehicles.
- “Road and weather conditions were perfect, so my speed was reasonable and prudent.” Under Oregon’s “basic rule” law, a speed above the posted limit is “prima facie evidence” of a violation. In bad weather, the appropriate speed may be less than the limit.
- “My car won’t go that fast.” This claim is generally not an effective rebuttal of the speed recorded by a laser, radar or pace.
- “I’m a careful driver and I never speed.” While a good driving record is commendable, it’s not considered (nor is a bad record) in determining whether a person is guilty of a violation at the specific time and place alleged in the citation. Your good driving record can result in a reduced fine if you’re found guilty.
“Special Left-Turn Lanes”
It’s a familiar temptation for anyone who drives on congested streets in Tigard or any other large urban area.
Imagine, for example, that you’re driving south around 5 p.m. on Hall Boulevard toward Pacific Highway, planning to turn left at the intersection. There’s a long line of cars ahead of you and you’re still several hundred feet from the traffic signal.
This portion of Hall has two travel lanes and a familiar “special left-turn lane,” which Oregon law defines as “a median lane that is marked for left turns by drivers proceeding in opposite directions.” These center lanes have solid lines on the outside, dashed lines on the inside and, generally, left-turn arrows in the middle.
The Law Says...
Can you lawfully use the “special left-turn lane” to pass the line of cars and avoid further delays? The clear answer is: no.
Under Section 811.346 (1) of the Oregon Revised Statutes, you can be cited for “misuse of a special left-turn lane” if you use that lane “for anything other than making a left turn.” It can’t be used as a travel lane or to pass other vehicles. (You may also enter the special lane from an intersecting street or driveway, but you must stop there before you merge with traffic in the right lane.) A violation is subject to a presumptive fine of $260.
Some cited drivers have argued that they reduced congestion by using the special left-turn lane as a travel lane. That may be true, but legislators made a policy decision to give safety more weight than expediting the flow of traffic. Other vehicles entering the roadway from the right may not be able to see cars traveling in the special lane—a frequent cause of collisions.
City planners, in partnership with representatives from other agencies and citizens, are working on the Tigard 99 Improvement and Management Plan to improve safety and mitigate the negative effects of rising trip demands. Meanwhile, drivers should remain patient and observe Oregon’s Rules of the Road.