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'Following too close' has become 'catch-all' for driving offenses

There was an article June 2 about a pickup that struck the back of a fire truck 15 minutes after the fire truck had stopped at the accident. The driver of the pickup was cited for following too close. Can you explain how he could be following too close if he was 15 minutes behind the fire truck? Doesn't seem like that ticket would stand up in court.

— Lowell N., Medford

That seemed strange to us, too, Lowell. I mean, we've heard of maintaining a safe following distance, but come on.

In case others missed it, we published a storyJune 1 that said a Rogue River fire truck had responded to a single vehicle crash near exit 43 on Interstate 5 at about 6:30 p.m.

The fire truck was there, in part, to shield the responding ambulance. It straddled the fog line, partly in the fast lane of I-5. About 15 minutes after the fire truck arrived, 79-year-old Donald Howard of Portland crashed into the back of it, according to OSP. No one was injured, but Howard walked away with a citation for following too close.

A person who violates the statute — ORS 811.485 — "drives a motor vehicle so as to follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the traffic upon, and condition of, the highway.

"The statute doesn't specify that the other vehicle has to be moving," said Lt. Mark Duncan with OSP. "It's kind of vague, and that's why it works."

Duncan said troopers use this violation as a "catch-all" for offenses that are less severe than careless driving. Following too close is a class "B" violation, which carries a presumptive fine of $260, while careless driving is a class "A" violation, with a $435 fine. Class "A" violations also deal a more severe blow to insurance rates.

"For years, careless driving was a catch-all for driving offenses," Duncan said. "It just got overly used. Following too close became a fall back ... but now it's becoming a catch-all."

The solution, he thinks, is for the state Legislature to come up with a new ORS that is specifically a lesser offense, but that makes sense in application; "inattentive" or "distracted" driving, perhaps.

"We really need to have a statute that specifically identifies distracted driving," Duncan said.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.