Case Studies

Oregon: Vulnerable Users Statute

In 2007, the Oregon Legislature passed the Vulnerable Roadway User statute (ORS 811.135). The act created a higher penalty for careless driving if it contributed to serious physical injury or death to a “vulnerable user of a public way.” If that occurred, the act mandated either community service and driver-improvement education, or a substantial fine and a mandatory one-year license suspension. The law went into effect January 1, 2008.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) Legislative Committee advocated that the concept of a Vulnerable Roadway User could be a legal term to provide stronger protection of vulnerable user groups, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and rollerbladers. The term forged a new way for law enforcement and the court system to address pedestrian and cyclist injuries caused by careless drivers. Previously, Oregon law simply mandated a fine in response to a careless driving incident. Before the Vulnerable Roadway User statute, the state did not suspend the licenses of convicted drivers or require that they make a court appearance. The new bill included a noncriminal alternative of a $12,500 fine (up from $750) and a one-year license suspension. A traffic-safety course and one to two hundred hours of community service were included as an alternative to the fine and suspension. If the program is successfully completed, the suspension and fine would be suspended.

Creating a new legal concept required amending a considerable number of other statutes. The responsibility for administering the program monitoring careless drivers and supervising community service and any fines or license suspensions also had to be assigned to various agencies.

In 2011, Oregon amended its Vulnerable Roadway User statute to give police officers the discretion to note that an offense “appears to have” contributed to the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user, rather than requiring them to conclude that it was the exact cause of the serious physical injury or death. The change aimed to improve law enforcement’s ability to enforce the law. As a result, the Portland Police Department lowered the severity of crash that would trigger a full police investigation for a vulnerable roadway user. A full police investigation is now triggered when a vulnerable roadway user is taken away by an ambulence, instead when a victim is entered in the trauma system.

This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.