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Citizen Reports and Police Citations
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Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!
 
Like it or not, state vehicles are conspicuously marked. That’s the way the public likes it. And when a citizen files a report with Risk Management, this makes it pretty easy to track down the driver.
 
We logged 172 reports during the last year. What is the number one transgression? Speeding, sometimes as much as 30 mph over the limit. There are, however, occasional variations that make us do a double take, such as: state vehicle going 80 in a 65 mph zone, not allowing other vehicles to pass.
 
The next most frequent report is "misuse." This category runs the gamut. Again, citing actual reports: state vehicle flew past citizen, driver talking on cell phone and fixing hair. Then there was: state vehicle stopping at different houses and going through recycle bins and state vehicle being used to do laundry. Or, so help us: driver of state vehicle reading a book while traveling on I-5.
 
Sometimes Risk Management receives a report that really makes our hair stand on end. One day this summer, two different citizens called in to report a state driver near Capitol Mall.  He was laying rubber, speeding, and running red lights. To cap it all, he stops at a convenience store to buy a 12 pack of beer!
 
Serious Stuff
 
Citizen reports are taken seriously. They trigger a formal investigation. Risk Management first sends a letter to the agency. We give details of the report and request information on the driver. Then, of course, we ask for the state employee’s side of things. (In the recycle bin episode, for example, we learned that the driver was in fact on some unconventional state business at the time.) Finally, we send out a letter thanking the citizen for his report. We also inform him or her that action is being taken. What action that may be isn’t disclosed. Neither is the driver’s name, though it is a matter of public record. We’re sensitive to the possibility that a state worker could be stalked or harassed. Of course we could, and do, keep the employee’s name confidential if we suspect this.
 
In addition to citizen’s reports, the State Police notify us whenever they ticket the driver of a state-owned vehicle. We also receive photo radar citations and have to find out who was driving the car.
 
The other side of the story…
 
He doesn’t feel that he was traveling 75 mph, but could have been traveling over the 55-mph speed limit. He felt at the time it was safer to be traveling the speed of the traffic rather than slow down causing traffic congestion. This was an actual response to a citizen’s report about speeding.
 
This is a pretty typical response. We hear it from most of the speeding complaints.  It may sound reasonable. But is it OK?
 
ORS 811.100 says that a person commits the offense of violating the "basic speed rule" if the person goes faster than is reasonable and prudent. This takes into account traffic and other conditions. So, does this mean you can use the basic speed rule as an excuse to keep up with everybody else?
 
Well, ORS 811.105 goes on to say that going faster than the legal speed limit is prima facie evidence of a violation of the basic speed rule. Besides, what the basic speed rule says is that you shouldn’t even be going the speed limit if road conditions are bad.
 
Bottom line: It’s illegal to speed, even if everyone else is doing it.
 
So what?
 
A lot of time and effort is put into the driver incident-reporting program. Is it worth it?
 
Well, you can’t manage what you don’t know about. The reports make agencies aware of incidents involving their employees driving habits. And this enables managers to take steps like stating expectations, offering training and providing counseling. Sometimes, with serious or multiple offenses, more extreme steps must be taken.
 
All this effort is expended because there is a definite correlation between citizen reports/traffic citations and automobile crashes. Auto crashes remain the number one cause of state employee work-caused deaths.
 
And citizens notice how we drive. In some cases it is the only conscious contact they have with a public employee on a regular basis. When we drive poorly, it only reinforces the negative image promoted in the media. So it is worth the effort to follow up and remind our employees that the way they drive is an important part of their job.
 
Summer 00, Vol 13, No 4