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Oregon Laws Positively Impacting Oregon Motorcyclists

By: Wendy Kent

Under current Oregon law, a person commits the offense of “vehicular assault” of a bicyclist or pedestrian if they recklessly operate a vehicle upon a highway in a manner that results in contact between the vehicle and a pedestrian, bicycle or bicycle operator, when this contact results in physical injury to the pedestrian or bicycle operator. ORS 811.060. This offense is deemed a Class A misdemeanor, a criminal offense with possible punishment to include jail, probation, fine and suspension of driver’s license.

But what if a reckless driver hits and injures a motorcyclist? The driver may be subject to a citation for careless driving contributing to an accident under ORS 811.135 which constitutes only a Class A traffic offense. In this case, the driver would simply pay a fine and go on their way. Unfortunately, that was the experience of many injured motorcyclists who testified in support of HB 2598, which is pending in the Oregon legislature.

HB 2598, introduced by Representatives Andy Olson, Jeff Barker and Bill Post, expands the offense of “vehicular assault” to include contact between a vehicle and a motorcycle, motorcycle operator or passenger resulting in physical injury to the motorcycle operator or passenger. The bill is expected to receive a vote on the House Floor soon and, if approved, will move on to the Senate.

If passed, this new law will hold drivers equally accountable to motorcyclists and their passengers who may be injured by a driver’s reckless conduct.

Another positive law for motorcyclists was passed last year, known as the “Dead Red” law. Have you ever seen a motorcyclist or bicyclist stuck sitting at an intersection waiting indefinitely for the light to change with no recourse but to proceed on solid red? Effective January 1, 2016, Oregon passed the so-called “Dead Red” law that deals with this situation when a motorcycle or bicycle fails to trigger the sensors that change traffic lights. SB 533 modified ORS 811.360 to allow motorcyclists and bicyclists to proceed through or turn at an intersection on a red light under certain conditions.

Specifically, a motorcyclist or bicyclist may proceed on a red light only under the following circumstances: 1) when there is a traffic control device showing a steady circular red signal, a steady red bicycle signal or a steady red arrow signal; 2) the traffic control device is controlled by a vehicle detection device; 3) the bicyclist or motorcyclist comes to a complete stop and waits for the traffic control device to complete one full cycle; and 4) after the vehicle detection device fails to detect the presence of the bicycle or motorcycle and change the traffic control device to a green signal, the bicyclist or motorcyclist proceeds with caution through the intersection.

So, if you see a motorcyclist or bicyclist waiting at an intersection for the signal to change and then proceeding on a red light, there’s a good chance they are not breaking the law, but rather acting lawfully under the recent Dead Red law that was passed to address this issue.