Just how much do people break the law when they drive on local freeways? A lot.
This fact is usually hidden from public eye for one main reason: Local law enforcement agencies simply don’t have the human resources to stop all the people who break the law. They are underfunded and understaffed. Dangerous driving and blatant disregard for Oregon traffic law is so common that police officers are forced to stop only the most egregious violators.
It’s only when law enforcement agencies do targeted enforcement missions that the full picture of lawlessness emerges.
Case in point: In a five-hour period yesterday, during a “safety detail” coordinated by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, a whopping 452 people were pulled over. That’s over 90 stops per hour. Of those stops, 298 resulted in citations. While this safety detail was focused specifically on the Oregon law requiring people to move over for stopped emergency vehicles, the officers had their hands full with other violations.
The enforcement action was performed with over 50 officers from nine different agencies (including the Portland Police Bureau). They patrolled I-5, I-205, and Highway 26. Here are the stats as per a statement released today by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office:
- 452 traffic stops between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. January 29th
- 104 citations were issued for failing to maintain a safe distance from emergency vehicles
- 194 additional citations issued for dangerous driving behavior including speeding, following too close, and using a mobile communication device
- two arrests, one for an outstanding warrant and another for driving while criminally suspended
- Seven commercial motor vehicle inspections were completed, resulting in three trucks removed from service for safety reasons
Arrests?! Dangerous trucks?! Nearly 200 people driving dangerously?! It’s no wonder that there’s so much carnage on our freeways and roads each and every day.
The shocking thing to me isn’t that this law-breaking is going on, it’s that more people aren’t shocked about it. In local transportation advocacy and policy circles, I’m constantly hearing about “bike safety” this and “bike safety” that; yet we never hear about “car safety” even though so much automobile carnage and dangerous driving behavior is happening all around us every hour of every day.
I post this information on the front of BikePortland not only because the amount of law-breaking uncovered here deserves more attention; but also because we need a record of where real safety issues exist in our transportation system. This should help inform our ongoing debates about enforcement and the utter lack of impact traffic laws have (by themselves, without enforcement) on the behavior of road users.
I’d love to know what you think. Do these numbers surprise you? How should they — if at all — inform policy and advocacy strategy?