VALE — In the past week, more than 60 motorists traveling through the Jordan Valley area received citations for putting the pedal to the metal. Their high speeds ranging from 79 to 107 miles per hour put themselves and other motorists at risk, according to Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe.
The speed limit on Highway 95 is 70 mph, which the sheriff said is a “pretty reasonable speed for that highway,” so long as motorists are watchful for wildlife and other obstacles.
However, with 122 miles of state highway from the Idaho border to Nevada, and most motorists who are traveling through having already been driving for a while by the time they get there, it is not uncommon to see the occasional person speeding through the area.
“Driver fatigue does play a part on that highway a lot because no matter where you came from, you’ve been driving a while by the time you get there [Jordan Valley],” Wolfe said, adding that it didn’t matter if the motorist was traveling from Ontario, Boise, Nevada or California — the road is long.
Seeing this many citations issued for excessive speed, however, prompted the sheriff to issue a strong word of caution, as five of them were for speeds in excess of 100 mph.
“Just be reasonable in your driving is what we’re asking,” he said.
Complaints come in
Some people believe citations are handed out to help the Sheriff’s Office make money, however, Wolfe said, that is never the case.
“Sometimes people think we’re doing it for revenue, and I can guarantee we’re not,” he said. “We would love it if there was no need to write a citation.”
A sheriff’s deputy will “never stop somebody for two or three miles per hour over the speed limit,” Wolfe said, adding that usually there was an 8- to 10-mile per hour leniency.
Wolfe noted the lowest speed for which a citation was issued in the past week was only 9 mph over the limit.
It’s not uncommon for people to call and complain about motorists who do things such as speeding or unsafe passing, Wolfe noted. But there are other complaints that come in sometimes, and those are from people who received a citation and complain that “the only reason we’re doing it is for the revenue.”
That is not the case, Wolfe reiterated, adding that the overall purpose of issuing a citation for excessive speed it to get motorists to slow down, drive at reasonable speeds, and not put anybody at risk.
In addition to a hefty fine, getting a ticket for speeds in excess of 100 mph in Oregon can also carry a careless or possibly reckless driving charge.
“We’ve had several cases lately where unsafe passing resulted in crashes, and it usually involves another vehicle,” the sheriff said, emphasizing, speeding puts “other people’s lives at risk, as well.”
Response time tends to be lengthy
In addition, “reaction time is diminished” for motorists who are “pushing eighty, ninety, to one-hundred miles per hour,” Wolfe said. “And one thing we see is a lot of overcorrection.”
In crashes that occur at those high rates of speed, injuries are usually severe, couple with a delayed response time for medical help.
This is because the EMTs for the ambulance in Jordan Valley are all volunteers, and many live four or five miles out of town on ranches, Wolfe said. So paramedics have to drive into town and wait until two of them are there before they can respond to the crash, most of which are not right in Jordan Valley.
If a crash happens by Basque Camp or Blue Mountains, “you’re looking at one hour to one hour and twenty minutes,” the sheriff said.
“So when we have hurt bodies, we all know time is of the essence,” Wolfe said. “But it seems forever before you get medical help.”
‘A lot of resources’
In addition to this, it takes myriad first responders to handle traffic accidents in the Jordan Valley area.
“A crash down there utilizes a lot of resources,” Wolfe said.
This includes Oregon Department of Transportation, which always responds to highway crashes.
“It takes them away from what they’re doing this time of year trying to patch holes or chip seal” or do work on other construction projects, he said.
On all serious crashes, Oregon State Police responds. If there isn’t someone already down in the Jordan Valley area, Wolfe said, the agency will send someone in from the Ontario or Burns office to investigate the crash.
In addition to state police and EMTs, crashes usually involve a deputy, and oftentimes air ambulance will be deployed — weather permitting.
“So that’s why we write citations,” Wolfe said, adding that more citations being issued have in fact decreased crashes.
The sheriff credited one of the two resident deputies in Jordan Valley for stepping up enforcement. He also credits lifting a quota that was established years ago that — although it only lasted for a short time — limited the number of miles a deputy could drive down there.
“What we found was due to that, we weren’t doing a lot of traffic enforcement, except within thirty to forty miles of Jordan Valley,” and they noticed the number of crashes hiked.
Once the mileage restriction was lifted it opened up the opportunity to “start doing more traffic enforcement and the number of crashes went down.”