Gassholes, the Sequel: Vehicular Assault

My last post, on the dangers of running or cycling on Germantown Road, generated a response that had me scratching my head and, ultimately, doing some research. One of the nineteen people who read the post put up a comment on Facebook to the effect that, under Oregon law, all those cars attempting to trim my arm hair were, in fact, in the right, and by obstructing their commutes with my soft body, I was actually committing a traffic infraction. As proof, he cited ORS 814.040.

Oops. Wrong statute. That provision is only about crossing the street in town. It's Oregon's crosswalk law: pedestrians have the right of way if they're crossing the street at an intersection, whether or not there's a marked crosswalk. If there's a walk signal, they're supposed to obey it, but otherwise, the crosswalk is implied, and cars must yield to them. Crossing in the middle of a block ("jaywalking" in the vernacular), pedestrians must yield to vehicles; if they don't, they're in violation, and can be ticketed.

Walking or running on a country road is a whole other thing. All of Oregon's laws concerning the interaction of pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers are helpfully compiled at the ODOT web site, in a 34-page PDF that should be required reading for drivers, walkers, runners, and cyclists. The statute that actually has to do with walking or running outside of city limits is 814.070 "Improper position upon or improperly proceeding along highway," which spells out all the ways in which pedestrians must stay "as far as practicable from the roadway edge" by using sidewalks, paths, or shoulders. When there is no shoulder, as is the case on many country roads, the pedestrian is obligated to proceed "as near as practicable to an outside edge of the roadway, and, if the roadway is a two-way roadway, only on the left side of it." The keyword here is "practicable." It's not practicable to run in a ditch, or to bushwhack through blackberry vines, so on long stretches of rural roads, I've got no choice but to stick to the pavement, where I always run as close to the edge as I can. In so doing, I'm in full compliance with the statute. I do not have to yield to a motor vehicle.

And now for the stinger:

811.060 Vehicular assault of bicyclist or pedestrian; penalty. ...
 (2) A person commits the offense of vehicular assault of a bicyclist or pedestrian if:
 (a) The person recklessly operates a vehicle upon a highway in a manner that results in contact 
between the person’s vehicle and a bicycle operated by a person, a person operating a bicycle or a 
pedestrian; and
 (b) The contact causes physical injury to the person operating a bicycle or the pedestrian.
 (3) The offense described in this section, vehicular assault of a bicyclist or pedestrian, is a Class A 
misdemeanor.

To put it more succinctly: if I'm cycling or running on a country road, following all the provisions of the ORS, and you hit me with your car, you've committed vehicular assault, a Class A misdemeanor, just short of a felony. Mind you, the word "if" figures in the statute: "if" there's an injury. Anytime a 2000 pound piece of metal traveling at more than five miles an hour collides with an unprotected human body, there's going to be an injury. There may well be a death, in fact, in which case it's not assault, it's manslaughter, and you're going to jail.

The simple reality is that, throughout the West, motor vehicles must share roads with bicyclists and pedestrians. In many cases, there is simply no way to get from point A to point B without using a road. "You can't get there from here without a car" is not a solution. Yes, those of us who are not traveling in steel cages need to exercise common sense and take every possible precaution, staying as far from traffic as possible, yielding even when we're not required to, because we can never be sure whether the driver sees us, or is aware of how deadly it is for a speeding car to even graze a cyclist or pedestrian. But we have as much right as the cars to use these roads, and while the statutes instruct us to stay out of cars' way as much as possible, it's for safety's sake.

One other observation: skimming through these rules, the sections on pedestrian and bicycle responsibilities keep mentioning "traffic infraction" as the likely penalty. It's only when I got to the section on driver responsibilities that the word "misdemeanor" came into play. A misdemeanor is a criminal act which, while not a felony, still carries significant weight, including up to a year of jail time. The law clearly understands the advantage cars have over bicycles and pedestrians in an accident, and accordingly levies stiffer penalties against drivers for violation its provisions.

With all that out of the way, I want to turn back to the real focus of my complaints against the drivers of Germantown Road: common courtesy. By "common," I mean the sort of courtesy you'd want extended to you if the shoe were on the other foot. If your car broke down on a rural road and you had to walk back to town for assistance, wouldn't you want those commuters to slow down a little, give you a little more room? At any point, would your reaction to having them roar by you at high speeds be "serves me right for not being in a car right now"?

Of course it wouldn't. Because the roads are there for all of us. All we have to do is acknowledge each other's presence, and give up a few seconds of travel time. Doing so means we all get to our destinations in one piece, feeling much better about each other. I'd much rather arrive a minute later because I was courteous to all the cyclists on Skyline than get there on time with the memory of a dozen birds flipped at my rear view mirror. Wouldn't you?

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