New Oregon House Bill 2542 Seeks to Keep Hit and Run Drivers Off the Road Longer

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Rep. Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego) is sponsoring a bill that will increase the penalty in Oregon for those convicted of failure to perform the duties of a driver where the collision causes serious injury to another. Portland hit and run attorney Joshua Shulman, of Shulman DuBois LLC, will testify on House Bill 2542, which will increase the time period that the convicted person’s driving privileges can be revoked to three years, on Monday.

Rep. Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego) is working to protect Oregonians, specifically pedestrians and bicyclists, from hit and run drivers.

The Oregon Legislature will soon be considering House Bill 2542, a bill that, if successful, will increase the penalty for drivers convicted of injury hit-and-run. With the increased media attention given to Oregon hit and run accidents, it is no surprise that legislators like Chief Sponsor Representative Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego) want to increase the penalties in hopes of preventing these incidents.

Other Bill sponsors include Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard), Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), Greg Matthews (D-Gresham), and Andy Olson (R-Albany). Oregon HB 2542 is now in Judiciary Committee for review.

Currently, Oregon law for hit-and-run convictions is simple – perhaps too simple. The penalty for an injury hit-and-run is one year without a license, and the penalty for a fatal hit-and-run is five years without a license (ORS 809.409). While in theory there are penalties in between (for assault, since a car has been defined as a deadly weapon), in practice, it is difficult to prove that someone has been recklessly assaulted with a vehicle. House Bill 2542 seeks to provide the court another option for penalties assigned when a driver “fails to perform the duties of a driver” as described in ORS 811.705.

“I think this Bill should be highly publicized. If anyone is ever considering leaving the scene of an accident, they will hopefully be dissuaded by the thought of these harsher penalties,” said Portland attorney Joshua Shulman. Shulman spoke at a rally last year for the friends and family of Michael Vu, a young man killed in a bicycle hit-and-run crash in 2011, about the importance of hit and run penalties. His firm also represented Robert Skof in a highly-publicized hit and run claim against Kirk Hanna, the owner of Mt. Hood Ski Bowl. He is glad to see that the Oregon Legislature is aware of these incidents and taking steps to prevent them in the future.

House Bill 2542 would amend ORS 809.409 to include a provision that reads:

“(3)(b) The department shall revoke driving privileges under this subsection for a period of three years if the court indicates on the record of conviction that a person sustained serious physical injury, as defined in ORS 161.015, as a result of the accident. The person may apply for reinstatement of privileges three years after the date the person was released from incarceration, if the sentence includes incarceration. If the sentence does not include incarceration, the person may apply for reinstatement three years from the date the revocation was imposed under this subsection.”

So if a driver leaves the scene, and the victim is seriously injured (but not killed), the amended statute will allow for revoking the driver’s license for up to three years. ORS 161.015 basically defines serious injury as any injury that poses a significant risk of death or causes permanent impairment or disfigurement.

While several states, including Nebraska and North Carolina, leave the period of revocation to the discretion of the courts, most do not attempt to differentiate between the types of injury in deciding a proper penalty. California, a state that does differentiate, however, does not distinguish between death and serious injury – the penalty for leaving the scene of the collision is the same in both cases (CA DMV, Cal. Veh. Code 20001). Some advocates, including the non-profit group Oregon Walks, believe Oregon should do the same, as the intention of the driver is the same whether the victim is injured or deceased.

It is important, though, to remember that license revocation is not the only penalty associated with hit-and-run crashes. Many of those convicted also serve jail time. Failing to perform the duties of a driver to an injured person is a Class C felony. Failure to perform those same duties to a seriously injured person or someone who dies as a result of the accident is a Class B felony (ORS 811.705(2)). While House Bill 2542 does increase the period a license can be revoked, increasing the amount of jail time is a more costly proposition.

“This Bill is a step in the right direction to preventing hit and runs. Thank you, Rep. Garret, for taking steps to protect Oregonians from careless drivers,” Shulman said. Shulman has been asked to testify for the Bill, along with Kristi Finney, the mother of hit-and-run victim Dustin Finney, on March 4th in Salem.

In the future, Oregon might pursue further penalties as well. Currently, in Oregon the penalty for hit and run is much less than the penalty for drunk driving, which gives drunk drivers an incentive to leave the scene if they injure or kill anyone. In Colorado, in an attempt to prevent this,the penalties for hit and run drivers AND drunk drivers are the same but only if the victim dies. Shulman hopes that eventually Oregon will adopt similar laws so that drunk drivers will stay and help their victims to make sure they receive medical attention.

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