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Oregon State Capitol in the Spring

Did you know that in 2013, Portland was ranked as the 10th most traffic-congested metropolitan area in the United States?

Jump ahead two years later, and Portland is now ranked (2015) as the 8th most traffic-congested metropolitan area on a Friday in the United States.

I’m an advocate for motorcycle safety and the passage of laws that improve motorcycle safety with a result of increased motorcycle awareness and driver accountability.  Like many of you, I’ve been riding for a good long while and my perspective comes from years of riding motorcycles across the United States (including in California).

Given the fact that Oregon continues to struggle with funding issues associated with overhauling an aging transportation infrastructure at the same time in which it is coming under increasing strain from population growth you’d think aspects of improving stop-and-go traffic situations would be relatively straightforward.  It’s not!  There is a lot of discussion and hand-wringing in Salem about riding motorcycles, incentivizing motorcycle use in dense urban areas and using less fuel-efficient automobiles, but few actionable plans seem to materialize or get put into motion to address increased traffic congestion.

One could debate if the “let it melt” strategy for ice storms, is being applied to traffic congestion, but instead it would be “watch it get worse.”  I’m still looking for a report out or the glowing “success” memo from ODOT in regards to the near Real-Time Reader Signs on Highway 217 that seldom seem to be accurate.

In fairness, there have been enhancements to various roadways to “ease” some traffic congestion and construction is now happening on Highway 26 to widen the road.  In addition, there is a major enhancement planned to improve traffic conditions and highway operations on I-5 from Highway 99W to I-205.  Part of the Corridor Bottleneck Operations Study, the I-5 project isn’t going to start until early 2018 and hopefully be completed by the fall of 2019.

Below is a quick summary of some key 2017 motorcycle legislation and the current status:

Senate Bill 385Lane Sharing (Highways Only) — Bill would have made lane splitting legal, but has died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety (GAC-MS) discussed, debated and identified merits and problems with this legislation, and decided at its February 16, 2017 meeting to oppose SB 385 by a 5-2 vote in the name of motorcyclist and motorist safety.  ODOT opposed passage of SB 385 citing that Oregonians don’t support this motorcycle riding practice and that the safety of motorcyclists across the state of Oregon will be compromised.  The AAA and the Oregon Trucking Association also testified against the bill.

The next legislative session opportunity is now in 2019.

You might recall that there was an identical bill which failed two years ago — SB 694.  Interestingly this bill received initial support from the GAC-MS.  The group provided written and verbal testimony in support of the bill which made it out of committee (unanimously) and passed the full Senate with a 2/3 bipartisan majority before failing in the House.  The GAC-MS changed its position after SB 694 passed the Senate and then opposed the bill at the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development.  It’s unclear why the Committee’s position switched or the mixed messages on the riding practice.

What is the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety (GAC-MS) you ask?

It’s an influential group comprised of eight volunteer citizens who advise the Governor and the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative on motorcycle safety issues and legislation. The GAC-MS reviews legislation that could or might affect motorcycle safety in Oregon.  The Committee consider’s input from Oregon Confederation of Clubs, Abate of Oregon, BIKEPAC of Oregon, Law Enforcement, ODOT, AAA, Trucking Association to name a few and from motorcyclists and organizations in support of motorcycle legislation.

House Bill 2665Lane Sharing (Lanes and Shoulders) — Allows operators of motorcycles and mopeds to travel on the shoulder of highway during traffic jams or slowdowns.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety Committee voted to oppose 7-0.

Senate Bill 680Lane Sharing (All Roads) — Allows operators of motorcycles and mopeds to travel between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles during traffic jams or slowdowns.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose 7-0 in a previous meeting.

House Bill 2598Vehicular Assault of Motorcycle Riders (Enhanced Penalties) or often called the “Driver Responsibility Bill” — Expands offense of vehicular assault to include contact with motorcycle, motorcycle operator or motorcycle passenger.  Specifically adds motorcyclists (and/or their passengers) to a current Oregon law that provides those who operate another vehicle recklessly resulting in contact with and injury to a motorcyclist and/or their passenger to be possibly charged with the crime of “vehicular assault” and its associated penalties.  There is no specific provisions to protect motorcyclists from reckless drivers and there is no specific accountability for drivers that injure a motorcyclist as opposed to a pedestrian or a bicyclist, and motorcyclists are not on the vulnerable users list.

The bill has moved thru the House committee with a “pass” recommendation and is headed for House Floor vote.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose 4-3 the bill and is determining how best to communicate the Committee’s position to the legislation.

House Bill 2599Helmet Choice — Requires only persons under 21 years of age to wear motorcycle helmet while riding on or operating motorcycle or moped.  This is an emergency bill and would take immediate effect upon passage. Topics discussed included: individual choice, what happens when a rider doesn’t have health insurance and needs long-term care, the efficacy of the age requirement, the inability to see or hear as well when wearing a helmet.

The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose the bill.

Senate Bill 36Three Wheel Motorcycle Skills TestingWaiver — This bill eliminates the requirement that DMV conduct a skills test prior to issuance of a restricted three-wheel motorcycle endorsement. Individuals applying for the three-wheel motorcycle endorsement would still take the motorcycle knowledge test.  There are approximately 45 tests offered per year at five DMV field offices for the restrictive three-wheel motorcycle user.  The DMV is not currently granting waivers to three-wheel cycle users and that users who want a three-wheel motorcycle only endorsement still have to take knowledge and skills tests and receive a unique endorsement.

The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to support the bill.

I’ll continue to update this blog post as I learn about any bill updates during the 2017 legislative session.

Photo courtesy of State of Oregon

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Mike Zupan (left) and John Zupan (right)

I was on a Southwest flight heading to Sacramento last week reading the in-flight magazine.

There was an article called “Bourbon Barrels” which stated that in Kentucky the number of Bourbon-aging barrels outnumber the state’s residents by more than 360,000.  There are 4.7M aging barrels in use among the commercial distillers.  And that in recent years, the popularity of premium small-batch and single barrel products has skyrocketed to the point where the bourbon industry in Kentucky is in its biggest expansion phase since Prohibition.

While reading this it reminded me of an online article I had read earlier in the week where company executives for Brown-Forman (Jack Daniels) stated that they’ve seen improvements in liquor consumption at U.S. bars and restaurants.  The so-called “out-on-the-town” drinking, a key segment for the spirits companies, had been hurt in recent years by the economy, but with renewed brand development and wider distribution, Brown-Forman stated they are seeing improved net sales growth.

Northeast Marine Drive -Portland, OR.

It was a quick flight, but I had time to read all two-pages of the Oregonian Business section to learn that John Zupan, 66, died.

John who?

John was like many of you who read this blog.  A person who enjoyed classic cars and motorcycles.  He also was the founder of Zupan’s Markets which makes him a grocery store pioneer.  According to my sources he had recently purchased a 2009 BMW motorcycle and was riding it on Northeast Marine Drive when his motorcycle was hit head-on by a motorist.  According to Portland Police reports the car was driven by Edy Porfirio Reynoso-Ramirez, age 32.  Reynoso-Ramirez was driving a 1998 Honda Civic and was speeding in the eastbound lane of Northeast Marine Drive, driving erratically and passing other vehicles.  After the accident Reynoso-Ramirez fled the scene and tracking dogs were used to locate him hiding in an industrial area.  Reynoso-Ramirez was booked into Multnomah County jail with allegations of assault in the second degree, failure to perform the duties of a driver, DUII and reckless driving.  In addition, U.S. Immigration and Customs placed a hold on him.

Edy Porfirio Reynoso-Ramirez (L)

This is a very sad story.  One that occurs to often (drunk drivers (some being undocumented)) and is not easy to get use too.

For some topics, particularly on public health and immigration, summaries are dangerous because they can create the idea that a single or simple solution exists when it’s always more complex.  However, for those who say that the status of the driver is irrelevant, I beg to differ.  If Reynoso-Ramirez were not here illegally, Mr. Zupan might well still be with us.  In Oregon like most all other states acceptable PROOF of residence is a requirement for a drivers license.  It’s unclear if Reynoso-Ramirez has ever been checked to see if he even knows how to drive or if he can even read the road signs? Lastly, by the nature of his illegal status, there is an implied disregard of U.S. laws so, why not drink and drive?  It’s a third world corrupt behavior and one that is problematic.

I’m sure there is a lot of blame to pass around for this accident.  The DMV is at fault for lax documentation measures.  The spirits industry for its continual drive of seeing improved sales or the retail outlet for selling the spirits.  It’s the governments fault because they are lax on immigration.  Geez, even President Barack Obama’s family is embroiled in a similar matter.  His uncle, Onyango Obama, an illegal immigrant was charged with drunken driving in Framingham, MA.  He was ordered by an immigration judge back in 1992 to leave the country, but for some reason just hasn’t gotten around to it. Onyango, who’s from Kenya, is the half brother of the president’s late father and has pleaded not guilty to operating under the influence of alcohol and is being held on an immigration detainer.

Sadly, drunk drivers come in all shapes, sizes and citizenship status’.

I anticipate that this accident will be placed on the back burner by the Oregon media or law makers as to avoid having any debate over illegal immigration and any associated issues.  What’s worse is that many people out there – especially insurance companies- consider motorcycle accidents, even when the motorcycle rider is NOT at fault, the “cost of doing business” and that motorcycle riders have essentially assumed the risk of getting hurt.   Many non-motorcycle riding members of the pubic, in fact, assume that anyone who rides a motorcycle is asking for trouble and if they do get hurt, well then that is the riders fault even if the rider did nothing improper.

Unfortunately the real issue (drunk and reckless driving) will get buried in the media as questions about who will or will not participate in the Ducks next football practice take center stage…

My sincere condolences to the Zupan family.

Photos courtesy of Zupan.com and Fox 12 News

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It started out like any other routine day.  Up early, shower, comb the hair, brush the teeth, start up the automobile and head out enroute to various scheduled appointments.

Except on this day Marcia Brandon was guilty of listening to the radio as she fidgeted with the automobile controls and multitasked down the highway.  The preening on the road was a costly lesson as she drove distracted, lost in thought on the road.

Because on this day the 82-year old woman was cited by Oregon State Police (OSP) for driving 110 mph in a 55 mph zone on Highway 26 west of Gresham.  That’s correct 110 mph!  When the OSP trooper finally overtook the hulking Pontiac Bonneville and was able to pull over Marcia Brandon (did I already state she was 82 years old?) she stated that she wasn’t aware she was driving that fast.  In fact, she had no idea that the car’s hazard lights were blinking on either as she whizzed past other traffic.

Ms Brandon was cited for Violation of the Basic Rule – 110 mph in a 55 mph speed zone.

Convictions for driving over 100 mph now carry a mandatory minimum 30 – 90 day suspension in addition to a $1,103 fine.  Since 2006, with the stronger law and penalties, drivers traveling 100 mph or faster have decreased.  In 2009, troopers cited 298 drivers for traveling 100 mph or faster on Oregon highways, an approximate 21% decrease from 2008 (376 drivers cited) and 45% since 2006 (537 drivers cited).  In 2009 DMV noted 313 drivers received court ordered suspensions for driving over 100 mph, 366 court ordered suspensions in 2008, and 428 court ordered suspensions in 2007.

But, this isn’t my main point.  After a quick scan of the OSP site, Ms Brandon is in good company!  I’m alarmed at the number of age impaired driving accidents over the last 30 days and this is just a small sampling of the accidents:

  1. Roy Lester Shideler (age 82) – driving on a suspended  WA. license traveled into the ditch on Hwy 395 and was ejected from the vehicle and died.
  2. Irma Crumrine (age 81) pulled in front of a vehicle on Hwy 97 and seven people were injured.  All survived.
  3. Sandra Boehme (age 66) traveled across the center line striking a pickup which then created two other vehicles to crash.  All survived.
  4. Delia Le Blue (age 78) collided with a van making a left hand turn on Hwy 26 resulting in serious injuries.
  5. Clinton Deshazer (age 71) for unknown reasons crossed the centerline and collided with a semi-truck which resulted in serious injuries.

It turns out the fastest growing segment of the driving population are seniors who make up 9% (about 19 million) of the nation’s drivers. This figure is expected to jump to more than 30 million drivers by 2020.  Drivers aged 75 and older have a 37% higher crash rate than younger drivers, according to the Elder Law Journal, published by the College of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  And with the exception of teenage drivers, seniors have the highest probability of death resulting from an auto-related accident of any age group.

Sure, age alone does not determine a person’s ability to operate an automobile, but evidence suggests that certain characteristics associated with aging impair driving performance.

I acknowledge that independence of senior drivers is very important and fundamental to maintaining our freedoms, but I’m not sure the state/DMV tests are doing enough for road safety when an 82 year old is licensed and feels empowered or unrestricted to travel 110 mph on her way to errands.

Why so many age related vehicle accidents when by law Oregon drivers aged 50 and up must undergo a vision test verifying they can safely scan and traverse the roads?  The testing must occur upon license renewal and every eight years thereafter.

Given the aging population trends there needs to be more done by DMV in validating an aged driver’s abilities.

UPDATE: October 26, 2010 – Just yesterday, Martha Lockhart (age 82, from Olivehurst, CA.) stopped near Toledo on Hwy 229 at the intersection of Hwy 20.  For some unknown reason she pulled out into the path of a semi-truck which was pulling empty pole trailers.  The collision flipped the trailers which in turn collided with a Chevy truck registered to Oregon State and was being driven by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) employee Tamara Elizabeth Wagner (age 52) who was pronounced deceased at the scene.  Ms Lockhart and the truck driver received non-life threatening injuries.

Photo courtesy of: The Incredible Hulk from The Super-Hero Squad Show, © Marvel Entertainment

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It was the slogan of American Honda’s safety awareness campaign back in 1998.

The “Stupid Hurts” (.pdf) campaign was intended to create a lasting impression on parents and youngsters as the company was under a lot of pressure with respect to marketing and promotion of ATVs.  It was a multi-million dollar program to deliver straightforward, no-nonsense messages encouraging rider training about helmet use, operator-only use, drug and alcohol-free operation, appropriate age/vehicle size, and youth supervision.

But, beginning Jan. 1, 2010  “stupid is as stupid does”…the Oregon legislature has passed a number of new laws to protect YOU as well as increase the fines because in case you haven’t heard the state has a “revenue challenge.”  Many would debate that it’s a SPENDING problem, but what do we know?  For example, the fine for riding a motorcycle without a motorcycle endorsement jumps from $360 to $720. However, the law also requires the court to suspend the fine if the rider completes training and receives an endorsement within 120 days of sentencing.  Of course if you’re under 21 years of age you are required to complete a TEAM Oregon Basic Rider Training (BRT) course which historically has had long lead times.

But, wait there’s more:

  1. Oregon’s “Move Over” law in 2010 now means that you’ll have to move over for tow trucks and other roadside assistance vehicles. Under current law, drivers have to pull over from police cars, fire engines and ambulances rendering assistance on a highway having two or more lanes of traffic going in the same direction. The change also clarifies that if a motorist can’t pull over because there is a vehicle in the other lane, the driver must slow his or her vehicle to at least 5 miles an hour under the posted speed.
  2. There was also an amendment to House Bill 2040 to add roadside assistance vehicles and tow vehicles to the list of vehicles that require motorist to “maintain a safe distance.”  Failure to maintain a safe distance (ORS 811.147) is a class B traffic violation.
  3. For drunk drivers who are convicted with a blood alcohol level of .15 percent or higher — they will now pay a minimum fine of $2,000. Previously, the fine structure called for a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offense, $1,500 for a second conviction and $2,000 for a third or subsequent conviction, without regard for level of drunkenness.
  4. And what about protecting the children?  Any under 16 years of age will have to wear a safety belt or harness when operating a Class I or Class II all-terrain vehicle used for off-road use or a Class II ATV legal for street use. The safety belt or safety harness must be used when the vehicles are used both on public roads and premises open to the public. The law holds the parent, legal guardian or person responsible for the child responsible for compliance.
  5. Operators and passengers of Class II ATVs who are younger than 18 must wear motorcycle helmets. There is an exception for vehicles that have a roof or roll bar and that are registered through the Department of Transportation.

Clearly these new rules will create a lasting impression and stop stupid!

Photo courtesy of Honda.

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