Ray Thomas J.D. '79
Pedaling Bicycle Law
Ray Thomas wants to make one thing perfectly clear: Bicycle riders are extremely vulnerable when they share Oregon roadways with cars and trucks. In 2007, a rash of high-profile accidents and six fatalities in Portland alone drove home his message.
"Unfortunately, victims in these accidents often face a what-did-you-expect attitude from law enforcement and medical professionals," says Thomas. "It's time to shift the responsibility off the victim."
As he searched for a way to strengthen Oregon's bike laws, Thomas discovered a European safety concept known as the "vulnerable roadway user." Working with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, he wrote the concept's definition into House Bill 3314, which Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed into law in July 2007.
"This is the first time the vulnerable user concept has been used in a state law," says Thomas, who hopes the idea will help the public feel more protective toward bicyclists by placing them in the same category as small children, kittens, puppies, and other vulnerable beings.
Drivers who kill or seriously injure bicyclists or other vulnerable users (pedestrians, highway workers, horse riders, skateboarders, and roller skaters), now face a one-year license suspension and up to $12,500 in fines. However, these penalties will be waived if an offender completes a safety course and 100 to 200 hours of community service, a provision designed to educate drivers. Previously, the maximum fine was less than $1,000.
"Careless drivers will no longer be able to just write a check," says Thomas. "They'll actually have to show up in court and stand before victims and their families."
Thomas took up cycling during law school after an injury convinced him to cut back on his running. Following graduation, he went to work for the Metropolitan Public Defender's office.
"My first case was representing my legal assistant, who was hurt on a bicycle while delivering evidence exhibits," says Thomas.
That frustrating process set the tone for his passion for bicycle and pedestrian law, which now makes up about 50 percent of his practice at Swanson Thomas & Coon. His commitment to physical fitness, the environment, and the rights of the underdog keep him motivated. Thomas also organizes free legal clinics for Portland-area cyclists, writes regularly for Oregon Cycling, and has recently completed the sixth edition of Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists.
Thomas now lives on a farm 20 miles from Portland and drives his daughter to school instead of pedaling to work. But he continues to train and race in on-road hill-climbing time trials.
"I love the challenge of racing," he says. "It suits my personality."
--by Pattie Pace
Back to Spring 2008 Chronicle