The Russ Belville Show

Every day at lunch I leave my studio and walk my dog Roscoe to the park. This park is a block away from my studio, across a very busy Oregon Highway 213, otherwise known as NE 82nd Ave. Where my cross street meets 82nd Ave, I could just walk myself and Roscoe directly across the five-lane-with-center-turn-lane avenue. However, wanting to be as safe as possible, I walk him an extra block north where there is a designated crosswalk, complete with a center median island. At night I do this while carrying a bright blinking LED light.

In Oregon, when one steps into a designated crosswalk, the cars traveling in both directions are to stop until the crosswalk is empty. Yet nearly every day, as I approach that center median and look toward the oncoming northbound traffic, it is a guess whether they will stop for me and my dog.

So when I hear a tale of some pedestrian carrying no light who was hit at night on a busy wet five-lane road who didn’t bother to use a nearby designated crosswalk, part of me chalks it up to natural selection.

In Vancouver, Washington, last night, just across the river from Portland, such an accident occurred. But to follow the coverage from Portland’s KGW, you’d believe the only reason the pedestrian is dead is because of marijuana being legalized in Washington State.

A man who reportedly struck and killed a pedestrian early Monday evening was cited for DUI-Marijuana.

The driver was westbound on Mill Plain and the pedestrian reportedly stepped onto the street from a median…

The pedestrian was dead when officers arrived. The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with police…

A second driver nearly hit the pedestrian…

The arrest comes weeks after the possession of marijuana was made legal by a statewide vote in November. How police enforce pot-impaired driving laws has been part of the public policy debate since the vote.

This is just one of the KGW stories, but links there will take you to other alarmist stories about the Vancouver Police preparing for the onslaught of stoned drivers post-legalization.  You’d think that nobody had ever smoked marijuana in Washington before Dec 6 and police were just getting around to the idea that some may drive impaired.  Digging a little deeper at The Columbian gives us a better look at the details:

Vancouver police were called to the scene at 5:50 p.m. Witnesses said the man had been crossing Mill Plain in front of Safeway, carrying a grocery bag.

He crossed the eastbound lanes, stopped in a median, and then walked into westbound traffic.

A man driving a black Hyundai Sonata in the left lane slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the pedestrian. The pickup, in the right lane, struck the pedestrian, witnesses said.

The man, who was not in a crosswalk, was dead when police arrived…

Westbound Mill Plain at Andresen.  Can you see the red stick figure pedestrians?  (Click for larger image)

Westbound Mill Plain at Andresen. Can you see the red stick figure pedestrians? (Click for larger image)

My interpretation is that the guy was a bus rider. He went to the Safeway grocery store and was trying to catch the 5:43 C-Tran Bus. But rather than walk the extra 350 feet to go to the well-lit, signal-controlled crosswalk, he decided to take a shortcut to the bus stop by crossing in the middle of a wet five-lane busy road in the dark during five-o’clock rush hour.

We had a similar type of intersection down here on NE 82nd where it meets the MAX light rail line.  Two east-west and one north-south bus lines meet here and folks getting off those and the train who’d try to catch a connecting transfer would often bound across the five lanes of busy traffic, ignoring the crosswalks and causing accidents.  So ODOT but up a barricade wall on NE 82nd to stop that.

You never have to dodge mid-street pedestrians here.

You never have to dodge mid-street pedestrians here.

Sadly, thanks to Washington’s new DUID law, the driver’s attorney can make all these same arguments about a reckless pedestrian ignoring traffic laws, a dark and wet night making conditions difficult, and a poorly-planned stretch of road construction virtually inviting mid-street crossing, but it won’t matter if his client’s blood shows more than five nanograms of THC, he was a stoned driver at fault. There may even be vehicular manslaughter charges to follow. Of course, it is possible that at 5ng (or greater), this driver was too impaired to drive. It is possible that a split-second better reaction time totally sober might have led to seeing the pedestrian in time.

Yet it is also possible that the driver might have looked down to change radio stations, picked up a cell phone call, or dropped the (tobacco) cigarette he’s smoking and still misses seeing the pedestrian. However, there are no blood tests for that, no way to determine what other reckless acts he was engaged in prior to the accident.

In other words, a pot smoker might be totally responsible, smoking only at home, allowing four hours to pass before driving, feeling completely unimpaired, and he’d have no clue what his blood THC levels are. But in a situation like this one, he’ll be culpable merely for being a pot smoker, while the radio-listening, cell-phone-talking, tobacco-smoking driver would be getting sympathy for being victim of an unavoidable accident and KGW would run a quick “pedestrian hit and killed” story and be done with it.

And yes… I’d still vote for I-502, even after this story. Get over it. This guy would have been charged with DUI-M even with the old law and if he’s got a double-digit THC reading, he’d have probably been convicted. I-502 is law now and we all agree the per se DUID part sucks – so let’s put all that anger and “told you so’s” toward repealing or amending it.

Print-friendly version of the whole post

4 Comments for this entry

  • aaron kightlinger says:

    Great article, Russ, and prompt, too!

    About repealing the per se DUID clause, however – do you suspect this could be the nail in the coffin of such efforts?

    • RadicalRuss says:

      It depends what the blood test comes back at.

      If it comes back below 5ng, he might have a defense in “being below the legal limit”.

      If it comes at 5ng – 20ish, we have to argue some form of “yeah but even a sober driver woulda hit the guy!” or “just cuz he hit and killed a guy doesn’t mean he was impaired!” Then they say “So, how come the Hyundai in the left lane was able to stop?” A tough row to hoe, but not a “final nail” by any means.

      If it comes in at >50ng, the guy is toast; that’s indicative of more recent than 60-90 min smoking. But we may be better off, in that we can say 5ng is way too low and something like 50ng or 100ng would be more indicative of the “I just smoked and got behind the wheel” tokers the public fears.

      • Johnny oneye says:

        So its safe to say they base the 5 ng On FAIRY DUST and not actual science? correct?

        • RadicalRuss says:

          No. Statistically speaking, drivers with >5ng/ml are at greater risk of accident. The problem is that while that stat holds true for the whole, it breaks down at the individual level. It’s like saying statistically, NBA players are taller than 6 feet, so nobody can be in the NBA who’s 5’11” or shorter. Yes, statistically you’d still have a league full of Kobes and Dwights and Dwyanes… but you’d be unfairly punishing Spud Webb.

          Another way to say it is, yes, it is based on science… but the science of accident statistics, not the science of physiological impairment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *