Citizen Prosecution of Dangerous Drivers:
A Users’ Guide on How Others Have Done It and How You Can Do It for Yourself
by Ray Thomas
Ray Thomas is a Portland bike lawyer.
Some drivers are so dangerous that some action must be taken to protect others. It is usually the case that a bad driver will offend again and again and the most serious cases will often result in someone being hurt and unable to identify the driver or license plate. When a driver either uses a motor vehicle to harass or intimidate, or drives in a way that will be a danger to others the victim is left with a tough choice. After all, it is a hassle to make an accusation and then followup. But if we let dangerous episodes slide then the person who is most vulnerable, like a solo tourist unfamiliar with the area, or someone with a medical condition, may well be the next victim, and if a driver uses “rough driving” to intimidate a rider but cuts it a little too close then the rider is left hurt alongside the road while the driver escapes. If there are no witnesses there is little likelihood the hit and run driver will ever be apprehended and punished. While it may be a hassle to pursue a dangerous driver, if you are able to obtain the license plate number, identify the car and then you at least have sufficient information to consider doing something more than just letting it go.
But the first step is to use a mental checklist to ensure you can later identify the driver, the vehicle, and the license plate number. Repeating it over and over to yourself as a little singsong, writing it in the dirt on the side of the road, or asking a passerby to let you use a pen and paper are all possibilities, but the options are endless and you will need to be creative to obtain and retain the basic information.
We have previously written articles about Motorist Harassment and What to Do in a Collision. These materials are collected and attached as a part of this resource and contained on our website at www.stc-law.com. The articles are good general primers on their areas, but sometimes it is best to hear first hand from a layperson about how to proceed with the court system. Toward that end we have collected a number of stories from people who have had to ticket a dangerous driver, go to traffic court and then obtain a conviction. However, if the police are willing to ticket and prosecute the driver then it is much easier than trying to do it yourself.
Law Enforcement Assistance; If Help Is Available Use It
When a driver commits a dangerous traffic offense that results in an injury or amounts to harassment it is always important to call the police and ask that an investigation be conducted and that the person be charged for a crime or traffic violation. When the police respond and pursue the case then the system is working as it should and justice is usually served.
However, many times the police decide they are too busy or the situation is not clear enough for law enforcement involvement. This does not mean the driver is any less guilty of engaging in a dangerous driving practice, only that the police do not feel they can push the case. In some instances it may be best just to let the situation resolve itself with inaction. However, sometimes the evidence of a dangerous violation of the law is clear and the driver will likely go on to predate upon other vulnerable users if they are allowed to escape any consequences. In these situations it is important for the bicyclist to pursue the driver in court through Oregon’s Citizen Prosecution Statute (ORS 153.058). The Citizen Prosecution Statute allows regular citizens to initiate an action on a traffic ticket, to subpoena witnesses and present evidence at a trial in traffic court, and if the driver is convicted, then the conviction is a moving violation just like what would be received if a police officer had initiated the case.
We have assembled the personal accounts and documents from three successful citizen prosecutions by non-lawyers. The attached Table of Contents describes the materials which include the actual court documents and evidence used by the citizen complainants. While the names of the defendants are deleted, the names of the citizens and their accounts are contained with their permission, and we thank them for being willing to share their experiences with others to make the process easier.
Table of Contents
Bike commuter hit by driver running a red light and police issue no citations
|» Summary PDF|
Bike rider cut off by Right Hook while in bike lane
|» Citation and Court Docs|
Bike commuter almost hit by overtaking driver
This is the “ticket book” form used by most police officers to write a traffic ticket and is a good form to use to start your case.
|Oregon Judicial Department
PDF available here
This pamphlet is a “How To” guide to use in starting your own case
|» PDF Revised June 2008|
|» What to Do if You’re In an Accident|