Oregon Attorney Resources

Failure to Properly Signal in Oregon

turn-signalThe statutes for use of appropriate signals for stopping, turning, changing lanes, or suddenly decelerating a motor vehicle are set forth in ORS 811.390 – ORS811.405.  Proper signals include turn lights or, under certain circumstances, hand and arm signals.  In this section, we shall address all of these issues.

In general, the DMV’s publication–the Oregon Driver Manualsets out the basic concepts.  It makes clear that you must always signal before you turn, change lanes, move to the right or left, or pull away from the curb.  Before making such a move, be sure that you can do so safely.  Check ahead, behind, and to the side in all of these situations.  If your vehicle is moving in traffic, for example, then use your signal at least 100-feet before making a turn or lane change.  When you are parked at a curb and about to re-enter traffic, then use a signal long enough to alert oncoming traffic that you are that you are moving into a traffic lane.  You should also signal before you slow down or stop.  Gently put your foot on the brake.  Your stop lights will alert other drivers behind you, and signal them that you are slowing down.

The times of day and weather conditions are also important issues with regard to your decision as to whether or not to use hand-and-arm signals.  Use hand and arm signals only in daylight hours when you need them and can clearly see people and vehicles at a distance of 1,000-feet.  At night—or when visibility is poor—you must use turn signal lights, not hand-and-arm signals.  That is because hand-and-arm signals do not provide enough of a warning any time that you are driving a wide or long vehicle.

Unlawful use of lights to Signal for Passing

A driver commits the offense of unlawful use of lights to signal for passing if the driver flashes any lights as a courtesy or does a pass signal to other drivers who are approaching from the rear [ORS 811.390].

Appropriate Signals for Stopping, Turning, Changing lanes, and Decelerating:

Appropriate signals are as follows:

  1. To indicate a left turn, either of the following would be appropriate: (a) hand or arm extended horizontally from the left side of the vehicle; (b) activation of front and rear turn signal lights on the left side of the vehicle.
  2. To indicate a right turn, either of the following would be appropriate: (a) hand or arms extended upward from the left side of the vehicle; (b) activation of front and rear turn signals on the right side of the vehicle.
  3. To indicate a stop or decrease in speed, either of the following would be appropriate: (a) hand or arm extended downward from the left side of the vehicle or, (b) activation of brake lights on the vehicle [ORS 811.395].

Failure to Signal with Lights

Under the provisions of ORS 811.405, a driver commits the offense of failing to signal with lights when the driver does not use the lighting equipment described under ORS 811.395.

The provisions of ORS 811.395 discuss the appropriate signals for stopping, turning, changing lanes, and decelerating.  These situations are present under any of the following circumstances:

  1. During limited visibility conditions;
  2. At any time that a driver is operating a vehicle or a combination of vehicles in which the distance from the center of the top of the steering post to the left outside limit of the body, cab, or load of the vehicle is greater than 24-inches;
  3. At any time that a driver is operating vehicle or a combination of vehicles in which the distance from the center of the top of the steering post to the rear limit of the body or load is greater than 14-feet [ORS 811.405(1) (a) (b) (c)].

NOTE: The driver of a moped or bicycle shall signal by means of appropriate hand and arm signals—as discussed in ORS 811.395 (see above).

Failure to use appropriate Signal for turn, Lane change, Stop or Exit from a Roundabout

A driver commits the offense of failure to use an appropriate signal for a turn, lane change, stop, or exit from a roundabout if: (1) the person does not make the appropriate signal under the various provisions of ORS 811.395 (see above).  This situation takes place in circumstances where a driver is:

(a) Turning, changing lanes, stopping, or suddenly decelerating, or

(b) Exiting from any position within a roundabout [ORS 811.400].

NOTE: This section does not authorize the use of hand signals when the use of lights is required under the provisions of ORS 811.405 (Failure to signal without lights).

The Meaning of the word “turn” in Oregon’s case-law

In the case of, State of Oregon v. Bea, 318 Ore. 220 (1993), the court admitted that neither the text of ORS 811.335, not the text of ORS 811.400, defines what type of driving maneuver constitutes a “turn” within the meaning of those provisions.

The court in Bea consulted Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged) (1976) in order to discover a more precise meaning of what constitutes a “turn.”  Based upon the dictionary definition, the court in Bea noted: “The ordinary meaning of the noun ‘turn’ is “the act of taking a direction or a different direction,” “change of course.” Also, it found that the noun “turn” also should be defined as “the action or an act of turning aside (as from a straight course).”  The verb “to turn” ordinarily means “to cause to take another path or direction,” “to change the direction of,” “to cause to go or move in a particular direction,” “to direct one’s course,” and to “take a different course or direction.”

Examples:  What all of these definitions mean for the specific legal requirements for undertaking lane changes, turning, and signaling in Oregon case-law are as follows:

  1. Where the legislature did not quality the term lane, it is apparent that the legislature intended the term to include all lanes of highway—including those used for parking [State v. Thomas, 104 Or App 1226 (1990)];
  2. A defendant-driver who is driving in the merge lane and entering the driving lane is required to signal [State v. Belcher, 108 Or App 741 (1991)];
  3. Where a right turn was the only available and the only lawful option, then the driver was not required to signal [State v. Padilla, 119 Or App 27 (1993)].

In making sense of all of these examples, the Oregon Driver Manual on the subject of “turns” and signaling sums it up the best, when it states that: “The general rule for turning is to turn from the closest lane in the direction you are traveling to the closest lane in the direction you want to go.  Do not change lanes while turning.  Rules for turning apply at all locations, such as driveways and alleys, not just at intersections.  Turn smoothly and at a lower speed for safety.”   When a driver follows these rules for turning, he-she should also keep in mind the requirements for the proper use of signals.

Related Articles:

Parking, Stopping, and Standing Laws

Improper Lane Use

Failure to Yield to Right of Way

Oregon’s Parking, Stopping, and Standing Laws

no parking, stopping, or standingThe issues of parking, stopping, and standing are united by one common principle in Oregon law.  That common principle is a significant consideration of traffic safety—which prohibits unnecessary stopping, standing or parking so as to impede the free flow of traffic.  This principle is discussed under the provisions of ORS 811.550 to ORS 811.585.

Now, as significant and important as this principle is in Oregon law, there is also an equally important and somewhat competing consideration of traffic safety—which is that none of the provisions of the vehicle code relieves a driver from the duty to exercise due care concerning pedestrians.  This principle is discussed under the provisions of ORS 811.005.

Pedestrian Safety and the Free Flow of Traffic

The discussion in this section will address the challenge of how Oregon courts have sought to strike an appropriate balance between these two competing principles.  One the one hand, the general rule is clear: “A driver may not stop in the road to impede the flow of traffic.”  On the other hand, the various provisions of the Oregon’s vehicle code do not relieve a driver from the duty to exercise due care with respect to the safety of pedestrians.

It is not difficult to understand why there has been a growing concern for pedestrian safety.  According to ODOT, pedestrians account for 10 to 15 percent of traffic fatalities each year.  Over 550 pedestrians were injured and 45 were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Oregon in 2004.  By 2012, the data showed that 939 pedestrians were injured and that 60 were killed.

Historically, there has been an exception to the general rule, which is: “If a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, then a driver must stop for that pedestrian in order to exercise their duty of care concerning the safety of pedestrians” [Miller v. Miller, 106 Ore. App.434 (1991)].  A similar position was taken by the court in, Carter v. Mote, 285 Ore. 275 (1979), which decided that: “A pedestrian has the right-of-way only if within the crosswalk.  Otherwise, the motorist has the right-of-way.”  Yet, subsequently, we find a more recent Oregon statute in which that principle has been expanded upon—such as ORS 811.028.

Since January 1, 2006, when ORS 811.028 was passed, Oregon law has held that a driver must “stop and remain stopped” for a pedestrian who is obeying a traffic control device.  Additionally, it is clear that ORS 811.028 also holds that a driver must “stop and remain stopped” for a pedestrian who is: (1) in a crosswalk if the pedestrian is in the driver’s lane, (2) in the adjacent lane, (3) in the lane into which the driver is turning, or (4) within six-feet of the lane into which the driver is turning.

Hence, under the above-cited provisions of ORS 811.028, it is clear that the vitality and relevance of the cases in Miller and Carter have now become legally suspect in light of these statutory changes.  Therefore, in light of ORS 811.028, the specific circumstances that are described in ORS 811.028 should be understood as specific exceptions to the general rule.  Also, vehicle drivers, passengers, or other persons may not open a vehicle door unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interference with the movement of traffic, pedestrians, or bicyclists who are properly positioned on the roadway, shoulder, or sidewalk [ORS 811.490].

No Exceptions for Stop, Stand, and Park

No Exceptions:  Except to avoid conflict with other traffic, to obey a law, police officer, traffic sign or signal, or to momentarily allow traffic to pass before turning, you cannot stop, stand or park your vehicle in these locations: (1) Within an intersection; (2) On the roadway side of any parked vehicle [double-parking]; (3) On a sidewalk or crosswalk; (4) Or within seven and a half-feet of railroad tracks; (5) In a bicycle lane or path; (6) On a bridge or overpass—or between separate roadways of a divided highway; (7) In a tunnel; (8) Any place where official signs or pavement markings prohibit it [ORS 811.550].

Other Locations with No Exceptions:  Additional areas you cannot stand or park a vehicle (except momentarily to pick up or drop off a passenger) include, but are not limited to, these locations: (1) In front of a public or private driveway; (2) Within 10-feet of a fire hydrant; (3) Within 15-feet of the entrance to a fire station on the same side of the street or within 75-feet on the opposite side of the street; (4) Within 20-feet of a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection; (5) Within 50-feet of a flashing signal, stop sign, yield sign, or other traffic control device located on the side of the road, if your vehicle hides the signal from view [ORS 811.550].

The rules about stopping, standing and parking apply whether you are in your vehicle or away from it.  These rules do not apply if your vehicle breaks down and you cannot get it out of the traffic lanes or there is not enough room off the road on the shoulder for you to stop or park.

Exceptions for Stop, Stand, and Park

Exemptions from Prohibitions on Stopping, Standing, or Parking:  Under the provisions of ORS 811.560, there are some limited exemptions for stopping, standing, and parking.  These very limited exemptions include the following:

  1. When a school bus or worker transport bus is stopped to load or unload workers or children;
  2. When vehicles are momentarily stopped, standing or parked in order to either pick up or to discharge a passenger;
  3. When a vehicle is momentarily stopped, standing, or parked for the purpose of loading or unloading property or passengers;
  4. When a state, county, or city vehicle is performing maintenance or repair work on the roadway;
  5. When a driver disregards prohibitions in a situation where it is necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic;
  6. When a driver takes action in compliance with law or at the direction of either a police officer or traffic control device;
  7. When a vehicle becomes disabled and the driver cannot avoid stopping or temporarily leaving the disabled vehicle;
  8. When a vehicle is momentarily stopped to allow oncoming traffic to pass before making a right-hand or left-hand turn.

Proper Parking Policies

Parking on Hills:  Always set your parking brake.  Leave your vehicle in gear if it has a manual transmission or in “park” for an automatic transmission.  To prevent your vehicle from rolling downhill in case the brake fails while your vehicle is parked; turn your wheels in the proper direction:

  1. Downhill against a curb— Turn your wheels inward, toward the curb;
  2. Uphill against a curb— Turn your wheels outward, toward the travel lane;
  3. No curb— Turn your wheels inward toward the edge of the road.

Parallel Parking:  You should park in the direction that vehicles are moving in the lane.  You should park parallel to and within 12-inches of the curb.  If there is no curb, then park as close as possible to the edge of the shoulder.  Your wheels must be within marked spaces.

Angle Parking:  This type of parking is common in parking lots, shopping centers, and wide streets.  A courteous driver never parks too close to another vehicle.  Parking too close could result in damage to your vehicle.

Emergency Parking: If your vehicle has broken down and you have no choice, then you might have to temporarily stop or park your vehicle in areas where it usually is not allowed—as long as doing so does not create a hazard.  If you must stop or pull off the road, use the 4-way flashers.  This will help warn other drivers of the hazard.  If necessary, you may park a vehicle on the shoulder of a highway—but only if passing traffic has enough room to get by and if your vehicle can be seen from 200-feet in each direction.  If it cannot be seen from 200-feet in each direction, then you need to warn approaching traffic.  This can be done with a flagger, flag, flare, sign, or signal placed at least 200-feet in each direction from your vehicle.

Unattended Vehicles:  If you have an emergency and must leave your vehicle unattended on a highway, then you should turn off the engine, lock the ignition, remove the key, firmly set the brakes, and turn on your emergency flashers.  If a police officer finds a vehicle parked in an area where it is not allowed—or if it creates a hazard—the officer may have it removed.  The officer may also require you—or the person in charge—to move it to a legal stopped or parked position.  If you abandon a vehicle on the highway, it is very likely that the police may have it removed and you will become responsible for both towing and storage costs.  In addition, you also may get a ticket for abandoning a vehicle.

NOTE: Under the provisions of ORS 811.585, a driver commits the offense of failure to secure a motor vehicle if the person permits the vehicle to stand unattended on a highway without first doing all of the following: (1) stopping the engine; (2) turning the front wheels to the sub or side of the highway when standing upon any grade; (3) locking the ignition; (4) removing the key from the ignition; and (5) effectively setting the brake on the vehicle.

Persons with Disabilities

Parking Spaces for Persons with Disabilities:  Oregon issues special parking permits to persons with disabilities or groups that transport people with disabilities.

To Qualify for a Permit:  You must have a drivers’ license or identification card—and the signature of a medical professional—to apply for a disabled parking permit.

“Wheelchair User Only”:  In addition, Oregon also issues a wheelchair disabled parking placard or decal to persons with disabilities who use wheelchairs or similar low-powered motorized devices.  These placards or decals allow the user to park in “Wheelchair User Only” parking spaces.  Traditional disabled parking permits are not valid in these spaces.  Only vehicles that display these permits may park in specially designated parking spaces for persons with disabilities.  This rule applies on both public streets and private property—such as shopping center parking lots.

What is legal or illegal?  In light of these rules, it is illegal to do any of the following:

  1. Even if you park for only a few minutes in a space marked for the use of persons with disabilities, then it is illegal because you have not displayed the required parking permit.
  2. It is illegal to use a disabled parking permit when you are not entitled to the permit, or use an invalid disabled parking permit.  This includes using a permit that has been altered, photocopied, reproduced, mutilated, reported lost or stolen, or is not clearly visible.
  3. It is illegal to park on the diagonal stripes next to a disabled person’s parking space because people with disabilities use this access area to enter and exit their vehicles.
  4. It is illegal to block a disabled parking space or access area next to a disabled parking space with either a vehicle or an object.

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Oregon Improper Lane Use Laws

improper lane useIn Oregon, there are two major statutes which govern the issue of improper lane use.  Also, there is a body of Oregon case-law which addresses each of these statutes under specific fact-patterns and circumstances.

First, under the provisions of ORS 811.370(1), a driver must operate his/her vehicle as nearly as possible within a single lane.  In other words, the driver must make certain that their movement from one lane into another lane can be made safely.

Second, under the provisions of ORS 811.375(1), changing lanes requires a continuous signal—not less than 100-feet before making a lane change with reasonable safety.

We shall now turn to a discussion of each of these statutes in more detail—along with some examples taken from Oregon case law.

Failure to Drive Within a Single Lane

The very language used by the authors of ORS 811.370 is vitally important to pay attention to when determining whether or not the terms of the statue have actually been violated.  For example, in ORS 811.370, the statute discusses a situation where a person “commits the offense of a failure to drive within a lane “…if the person is operating a vehicle upon a roadway that is divided into two or more clearly marked lanes…”  But, the statute goes on to say in subsection (a) that a driver must: “Operate the vehicle as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane.”  Then, in subsection (b), the statute says that a driver must: “Refrain from moving from that lane until the driver has first made certain that the movement can be made with safety.”

The key words here are: “practicable” and “refrain.”  So, the question becomes: “What if a court, a jury, or the DMV cannot come to an express factual finding as to the cause of a departure from the lane of travel?  To answer that question, we have to turn to an example.

Example #1:  In the case of Frasier v. DMV, 172 Ore. App. 215 (2001), an Oregon court found that it is erroneous legal reasoning to say that any departure from a single lane is automatically a “prima facie” violation of the statute.  In this case, the DMV found that the defendant-driver had either caused or contributed to an accident which resulted in the death of two passengers riding in his vehicle.  The DMV concluded that by failing to drive within a single lane, the defendant-driver had engaged in a “prima facie” violation of the statute.  However, contrary to the DMV’s argument, the court in Frasier argued that there might be forces unrelated to a person’s driving conduct which forces a driver’s car to leave its lane of travel.  If so, then the driver did not violate the statute.

The Frasier court defined “practicable” in accordance with the ordinary meaning of the word—which means “possible to practice or perform.”  The Frasier court also defined “refrain” in accordance with the ordinary dictionary definition of the word, which requires “holding back,” or “putting a restraint upon,” or “checking or inhibiting an inclination or impulse.”

So, the court in Frasier found that there is a two-part question that needs to be asked and answered.

First, there must be a finding about what “caused” the driver to leave their single lane. Second, the DMV and/or the court have the burden of proving that the driver actually “contributed” to the accident.

In this case, the DMV was required to show that the driver was capable of staying in his/her lane of travel.  Neither the trial court nor the DMV had shown that the driver was capable of staying in his own lane at the time of the accident.  Hence, the final decision or holding of the court in Frasier was that: “When read in context, the words ‘practicable’ and ‘refrain’ demonstrate that the legislature intended that the statute would not be violated UNLESS the driver could not stay within the lane because of an act or omission that was within his control.”  So, the court in Frasier found that there was no “prima facie” evidence that the defendant-driver had violated the statute.

In this case, the facts presented did not show a “prima facie” violation of the statute, because it was unclear whether the driver engaged in an act or omission that was within his control.  As a result, the court in Frasier reversed the judgment against the driver and remanded the case back to a lower court for reconsideration.

Example #2:  In the case of State of Oregon v. McBroom, 179 Ore. App. 120 (2002), the defendant-driver was charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants.  He was stopped by a police officer who saw that the driver had drifted onto the closer of the double yellow dividing lines and stayed on top of that line for 300-feet or more.  Based on what he had seen, the officer concluded that the driver had failed to stay within his lane in violation of ORS 811.370.  The officer stopped the driver because he had “probable cause.”

The court in McBroom came to the conclusion that “probable cause” has both a “subjective” and “objective” component.  In this case, the police officer “subjectively” believed that the driver had violated ORS 811.370.  The only question left was the “objective” component—which was: “Whether a reasonable person, on these facts, could conclude that the driver had violated ORS 811.370?”

The defendant-driver argued that as long as he did not cross the double yellow line that ORS 811.370 (1)(a) would authorize two cars—traveling in opposite directions on a two lane road—to both drive on the center line.  The court in McBroom disagreed with the defendant driver’s argument and upheld his conviction at the trial court level.  Because subsections (a) and (b) should be read together, the facts of this case showed that the officer objectively, subjectively, and reasonably concluded that the defendant-driver was not moving from one lane to another when he failed to stay within his lane.  Because the officer had probable cause to believe that the driver had violated ORS 811.370(1) (a) (b), the trail court came to the correct conclusion in deciding that the defendant-driver had both “objectively” and “subjectively” violated ORS 811.370.

Unlawful or Unsignaled Change of Lane

The second major Oregon statute governing the issue of lane use is ORS 811.375.  It addresses the issue of the unlawful or unsignaled change of lane.  This statute is violated when a driver changes lanes by moving to the right or left when either: (a) The movement cannot be made with reasonable safety or, (b) The driver fails to give an appropriate signal continuously during at least the last 100-feet traveled by the vehicle before changing lanes.   Leading case law on this subject emphasizes what a reasonably prudent person—under the circumstances— would do.

Example #1:  In Barnum v. Williams, 264 Or. 71 (1972), the court clearly stated that violation of a law or ordinance is negligence per se.  The only exception is when a driver who violated a law or ordinance can present evidence that a statute cannot or should not be complied with—under the circumstances—by a person exercising reasonable care for the safety of themselves and others.  An emergency does not change the situation.  If a driver acts unreasonably in the face of an emergency, then they are negligent.  So, an emergency is just one of the circumstances to consider in judging whether a driver behaved reasonably under the circumstances.

Related Articles:

Legal Responsibility of Drivers and Pedestrians

Speed as a Factor in Auto Accident Cases

Oregon Use of Cell Phone While Driving Laws

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Improper Passing of a Vehicle in Oregon

Passing a VehiclePassing another vehicle is a normal part of driving, but it can be very dangerous.  Before you start to pass, be sure that you have enough room to complete the maneuver.  If you have to cut back into your lane too soon, then you run the risk of sideswiping the vehicle that you are attempting to pass.  If you do not get back into the lane soon enough, you risk a head-on collision with another vehicle.  So, when you are in the process of attempting to overtake and pass another vehicle on a two-lane road, then you should pass only to the left of the vehicle.  Under certain circumstances, passing on the left [ORS 811. 410], or passing on the right [ORS 811.415], is unsafe and illegal.  In this section, we shall discuss the details of each of these maneuvers.

Under other circumstances, a slower driver must yield to an overtaking vehicle [ORS 811.425].  Also, passing in a no-passing zone is prohibited—except when turning into or from an intersection, alley, a private road, or driveway.  This same rule applies when an obstruction requires driving to the left of the center of the roadway, as long as it is not done so in such a way that it would create an immediate hazard [ORS 811.420].  All of these circumstances—and the statutes which govern these situations—will be covered in this section.

How to Avoid Trouble When Passing

According to the Oregon Driver Manual, there are a number of important safety tips to keep in mind when passing.  These safety tips are as follows:

  1. Know the speed and acceleration ability of your vehicle.  Also, you should be able to estimate the speed of the vehicle you are passing and of any on-coming traffic.  As a general rule, if you can recognize any movement of an oncoming vehicle, it is too close for you to risk a pass.  So, when in doubt it is better to stay in your lane.
  2. Watch ahead for intersections—and do not pass while in an intersection.
  3. Stay well back of the vehicle you want to pass, especially large vehicles such as trucks and trailers, to give yourself a good view of the road ahead.
  4. Signal and check your rear-view and side-view mirrors before you change lanes.  Also, check your blind spot.  Move to the left only whens it is safe to do so.
  5. Complete your pass as soon as possible.  When you can see the entire vehicle you passed in your rear-view mirror, signal and return to your lane.
  6. Do not exceed the posted speed limit when passing another vehicle.  It is against the law to exceed the posted speed limits.
  7. Do not flash your bright lights to signal that you want to pass.  It is illegal to flash your bright lights when following a vehicle closer than 350-feet.

Unsafe Passing on the Left

Under the provisions of ORS 811.410, a person commits the offense of unsafe passing on the left if:

(a)    The driver that is overtaking another vehicle—that is proceeding in the same direction—fails to pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance.  Also, the driver should not again drive to the right side of the roadway until he-she is safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.

(b)   Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted under ORS 811.415, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give the right of way in favor of the overtaking vehicle—and shall not increase the speed of the overtaken vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.

(c)    A driver shall not drive to the left center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle when it is proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic.  This is necessary so that there is a sufficient distance ahead to permit the overtaking and passing to be completed without interfering with the operation of a vehicle which is approaching from the opposite direction—or a vehicle overtaken.

(d)   An overtaking vehicle must return to an authorized lane of traffic as soon as practicable.

Unsafe Passing on the Right

Under the provisions of ORS 811.415(1) (a) (b), a person commits the offense of unsafe passing on the right if the person:

(a)    Drives a vehicle to overtake and pass on the right side of another vehicle at any time not permitted by this section.

(b)   Drives a vehicle to overtake and pass on the right side of another vehicle at any time by driving off the paved portion of the highway.

Under ORS 811.415(2) (a) (b) (c), a person may overtake and pass another vehicle on the right of another vehicle under any of the following circumstances:

(a)    The overtaken vehicle is making—or the driver has signaled—an intention to make a left turn;

(b)   The paved portion of the highway is of sufficient width to allow two or more lanes of vehicles to proceed in the same direction as the overtaking vehicle; and

(c)    The roadway ahead of the overtaking vehicle is unobstructed for a sufficient distance to permit passage by the overtaking vehicle to be made safely.

Safety tips for Passing on the Right

You may pass on the right when:

  1. The driver you are passing is making or has signaled for a left turn.  There must be sufficient space to the right for you to pass without leaving the paved portion of the roadway—and the roadway in front of the vehicle is clear.
  2. You are traveling on a roadway with two or more lanes traveling in the same and the vehicle you are passing is in the left lane.  You may pass using the right lane.

You may not pass on the right if any part of your vehicle will be off the paved part of the highway or move into a bike lane.  Therefore, use extra care when you pass on the right.  Other drivers do not expect to be passed on the right.

No Passing Allowed

Do not cross the center of the line to pass when:

  1. You are in an area that is marked for no passing by a solid yellow line in your lane.  A “Do Not Pass” sign may also be posted.
  2. Your view of oncoming traffic may be blocked because you are on a hill or a curve.
  3. You are approaching an intersection, railroad crossing, or other area where your view of oncoming traffic is limited.
  4. You are at or in an intersection.
  5. You are at or on a railroad crossing.
  6. The vehicle ahead of you is at a crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross.

You may cross the center line in a no-passing zone only if the right side of the road is blocked—or if you are turning left into or from an intersection, alley, private road, or driveway.

Being Passed

In the processing passed, there are a great many chances for a collision.  The driver may cut in too sharply, you may choose to change lanes, or the driver may be forced back into your lane if the distance of oncoming traffic was misjudged.  What can you do?  You can help the other driver pass you safely by checking oncoming traffic and adjusting your speed to let the driver move back to into the right lane as soon as possible.  So, when another driver starts to pass, stay to the right and do not speed up until the other driver has passed.  DO NOT use your hands or lights to signal other drivers when to pass.  The law prohibits flashing any of your lights at drivers to let them know when to pass.

Failure to Drive on the Right

right-side-roadGenerally, motor vehicle drivers must drive on the right half of the roadway—and to the right of oncoming vehicles. This principle is well-established in Oregon’s statutes [ORS 811.295(1)].  There are only a few exceptions to this basic rule.

Limited Exceptions to the Rule

You are required to drive on the right half of the road except when:

  1. Passing another vehicle going in the same direction as you;
  2. Driving to the left of center to pass an obstruction;
  3. a road is marked for one-way traffic;
  4. A road has 3-marked lanes and the center lane is a passing lane;
  5. You are turning left;
  6. Directed by emergency personnel or other persons directing traffic [ORS 811.295(2)].

If There Is No Oncoming Traffic

The absence of oncoming traffic is not relevant to whether a driver committed the traffic infraction of failing to drive on the right side of the road.  Leading cases coming out of courts in Oregon have concluded that a driver violates ORS 811.295 by driving on the wrong side of the road—regardless of whether or not there is oncoming traffic [State of Oregon v. Mealer, 129 Or App 456, 460-462 (1994)].  The only caveat is that the standard provided by the statute cannot be relied on to show negligence per se.

The Difference between what is Negligent and what is Reasonable

Since the Oregon legislature has identified a few statutory exceptions to the requirement to drive on the right [ORS 811.295(2)], there are legal questions that need to be addressed.  Specifically, there are questions about the issues about what is negligent and what is reasonable.  Put it another way, the question becomes: “Is it appropriate and valid for a court to allow evidence of reasonable conduct despite driving on the wrong side of the road?” 

There are No Absolutes

As a general rule, Oregon courts have held that the failure to drive on the right half of the road is not negligence per se if the driver was acting as a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances [Tokstad v. Lund, 255 Or 305 (1970) and; Mennis v. Highland Trucking, Inc., 261 Ore 233, 236-238 (1972)].  In reaching a judgment on the questions of negligence and acting in a reasonable manner, a jury will also have to consider the following issues: (1) contributory negligence and highway design; (2) determining what is reasonable by considering the “trinity” of lookout, speed, and control.

Example #1: The questions become more complicated when a jury has to also consider the question of contributory negligence.  In other words, two questions can be raised: “Was one of the drivers acting in a more negligent or unreasonable manner in contributing to the accident and injuries?”  Also: “Did the design of the highway contribute to the accident?

In 1994, a plaintiff-driver brought a personal injury case when she was injured after colliding with the defendant’s tractor-trailer combination–which swept into her lane and collided with her car.  Defendant’s theory was that she (plaintiff) had cut the corner at the curve into the road.  As a result of cutting the corner at the curve, she crossed into the northbound lane—causing the collision with the defendant’s pup trailer.  In this case, the issue of highway design was also raised (which excused the defendant-driver for leaving his lane of traffic and colliding with plaintiff’s car).  The jury returned a general verdict in favor of the defendant [Dyer v. R.E. Christiansen Trucking, Inc. 318 Ore 391, 395-397 (1994)].

NOTE:  While operating a vehicle on a curve, on a grade, at an intersection, or at a railroad crossing, a person may not drive to the left side of the center of the roadway when the person’s view is obstructed for such a distance as to create a hazard in the event an approaching vehicle arrives [ORS 811.305(1)].  Exceptions include when the right half of the roadway is obstructed for construction or repair and when the driver makes a lawful left turn [ORS 811.305(2)].

Example #2: In reaching verdict, the jury will have to examine the facts of the particular case. The jury will have to look at the “trinity” of: (1) lookout; (2) speed and; (3) control.  Courts in Oregon have consistently held that lookout, speed, and control are interrelated elements (“the trinity”) in determining what is reasonable and what is negligent.  Therefore, it is mandatory that the jury consider them together [Mennis v. Highland Trucking, Inc., 261 Ore 233 (1972)].

NOTE:  The court in Mennis also examined the issue of contributory negligence and found in favor of the defendant.  The court in Mennis stated: “The allegations of contributory negligence were properly submitted to the jury.”  Further, the court found that: “Plaintiff knew the road was narrow and that he could expect to meet logging trucks; that he could expect to find the truck in the two gravel trucks in the road; and that he knew it was necessary to either slow down or to stop in order to pass” [Mennis v Highland Trucking, Inc., 261 Ore 233, 238 (1972)].  Therefore, the plaintiff violated the “trinity” of (1) lookout, (2) speed, and, (3) control.  As a result of this finding, the jury properly presented a verdict which was in favor of the defendant.

Failure of a Slow Driver to Drive on the Right

A person commits this offense if that person is operating a vehicle at less than the normal speed of traffic [ORS 811:315(1)].  However, this section does not apply when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction—under the rules governing passing [ORS 811.410 to 811.425].

Failure to Keep a Camper, Trailer or Truck in the Right-Lane

A person commits this offense if a person is operating a camper, trailer or truck and fails to keep it in the right lane [ORS 811.325 (1)].  However, this section does not apply under any of the following circumstances: (a) When overtaking or passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing this movement in [ORS 811,410 to 811.425]; (b) When preparing to turn left; (c) When reasonably necessary in response to emergency conditions; (d) to avoid actual or potential traffic moving onto the right lane from an acceleration or merging lane; (e) When necessary to follow traffic control devices that direct use of a lane other than the right lane [ORS 811.325 (2)].

Driving the Wrong Way Around a Traffic Island

A person commits this offense if the person drives their vehicle around a rotary traffic island in any direction except to the right of the island [ORS 811.330].

Related Articles
Oregon’s Parking, Stopping, and Standing Laws
Oregon Improper Lane Use Laws
Improper Passing of a Vehicle in Oregon
Failure To Yield to “Right of Way”

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