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Vehicular homicide law could make our streets safer

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is spearheading a drive for Oregon to adopt a vehicular homicide law - and we're guessing the alliance will find plenty of support from other quarters for cracking down on habitually unsafe drivers.

Oregon is one of only a few states without a vehicular homicide law, which would allow more severe punishment for drivers whose negligence causes the death of another person.

The bike alliance is making this a priority issue in part because of the death last year of Tim O'Donnell, who was killed while cycling in rural Washington County. The motorist who struck O'Donnell shouldn't have been driving in Oregon at all. Her license previously had been suspended for failure to appear in court - and that was after she was ticketed for driving while uninsured. She then obtained an Idaho driver's license and got into another crash in that state before coming back to Oregon and striking O'Donnell while he was on a group bicycle outing.

The case certainly appears to be an example of a driver who acted irresponsibly - but we can say without hesitation that it's not a solitary example. We've seen cases in the Portland area - often involving severe intoxication - where people who should have been grounded for years circumvented the rules and slid back into the driver's seat. On too many occasions, their recklessness resulted in tragedy for someone else.

A vehicular homicide law would create a greater deterrent for such behavior. Drivers who cause fatalities would face stronger punishment if they were driving without a license or insurance, or if they were driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

The bike alliance will ask the 2009 Oregon Legislature to adopt this new law. Given that most other states already have these rules in place, it should be relatively easy for lawmakers to find the best model legislation and take one more step toward making Oregon's roads safer.