Thursday, October 13, 2016

Driver Strikes and Kills Person Bicycling on Shaff Road near Stayton - Updated

Shaff Road, site of fatal crash this morning
via Marion County Sheriff
From the Marion County Sheriff:
Around 6:30 a.m., this morning, deputies with the Marion County Sheriff's Office were called to a vehicle versus bicyclist crash on Shaff Road SE near Rainwater Road SE near Stayton. When deputies arrived they found a single vehicle had struck a bicyclist killing the cyclist instantly.

Early indications show that the cyclist [Charles Michael Phillips] was traveling east on Shaff Road when an eastbound minivan [Wendy Jordan] struck the bicycle. The area the crash took place has very little shoulder and no lighting. At the time of the crash it was dark, rainy and the cyclist was wearing dark clothing and no light on the bicycle.

The driver of the vehicle remained on the scene and is cooperating with investigators. Identities of the involved will be released once the appropriate notifications have been made. Shaff Road was closed for 2 hours while investigators processed the scene, Shaff Road has now reopened for regular traffic. [map link added]
Let's talk about the asymmetry.

If you think it is unwise to ride a bike on a rural road in dark clothing without a light (and it probably is unwise), how unwise is it to drive so swiftly on a rural road you cannot see a large pothole coming up, a deer dressed in dark fur and without a light, or a fellow human road user?

At some point, if we are serious about things like Vision Zero, it seems like we'll have to develop new norms for the basic rule, ORS 811.100:
(1) A person commits the offense of violating the basic speed rule if the person drives a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to all of the following:
(a) The traffic.
(b) The surface and width of the highway.
(c) The hazard at intersections.
(d) Weather.
(e) Visibility.
(f) Any other conditions then existing.
If it's dark and stormy and you can't see what's in front of you, or your stopping distance exceeds the visibility, slower speeds and greater caution are called for, even on rural roads with long straight sections that seem to invite freeway speeds.

Right now our conventional interpretation of the Basic Rule doesn't take seriously enough the idea that weather and visibility and other conditions might require large speed reductions much greater than a few miles per hour.

Additionally, there is no network of nearby roads here, so it's not like there are "low-traffic" alternative routes for anyone on bike. This is probably the only way to get where they were going. We also don't know if they could afford special bike safety equipment like bright clothing and blinky tail lights. Regardless, they should be able to use the roads, to be on the roadway.

Alas, the rhetoric in the Sheriff's release is mostly about blaming the person on bike who, as far as we know, was bicycling lawfully. It is not illegal to lack a rear light - a front light only is required in addition to a rear reflector. And even if the person lacked a front light, that detail is not very relevant to a rear-end collision.

The framing here is asymmetric, and says that a person biking in that location and time and way is an interloper, having a second-class claim to be able to use the road, or having deviated from best practices. It may not be directly trying to de-legitimize the claim to using the road, to say they were a defective or improper user, but that is the effect.

(And of course, the dead person never gets to tell their version of events.)

In dark and stormy weather, on a road with little shoulder, what is the standard of care, of prudence, for operators of motor vehicles, the ones who actually employ potentially lethal force? Does our current rhetoric and legal framework properly apportion the burden for safety?

The argument here is that our hydraulic autoism does not properly apportion responsibility.

Update 1

From the Sheriff:
Deputies have identified the cyclist and driver in today's fatal crash near Stayton. Charles Michael Phillips, age 46, of Aumsville was riding east on Shaff Road when he was struck by Wendy Jordan, age 38, of Aumsville as she was traveling east on Shaff Road.

Tragically Mr. Phillips was killed in the collision. Ms. Jordan was not injured in the collision. Ms. Jordan and Mr. Phillips were traveling to their places of work when the collision took place. This is still an ongoing investigation and it is unknown at this time if Ms. Jordan will face any charges related to the collision. The Sheriff's Office does not anticipate any further release until the collision investigation is completed, that time frame is not yet known.
 This post will be updated.