Those that want to best experience all the rugged beauty of Oregon need to travel by car.
Sure, the bicycle culture is thriving in this avant-garde, farm-to-table abundant state. But the rural landscape puts quaint fishing towns, awe-inspiring mountains and the rugged coast – including a path taken in the early 1800s by Lewis & Clark on U.S. 30, the Columbia River Highway – out of reach for most human-powered travelers.
The downside to driving Oregon is the extreme weather conditions. Torrential rain, mudslides, snow and other hazardous rural road conditions can take new residents and visitors by surprise. Drivers can easily navigate the terrain as long as they understand how to make proper, safe driving decisions and stay alert to the changing weather patterns.
Consider these ideas to expertly navigate the roadways of Oregon –
Oregon’s Car Culture
Unlike its California neighbors who revel in high-end luxury automobiles, many Oregonians favor vehicles that are utilitarian and economical, though some of that changes as the population grows, said Peter Korchnak when interviewed over the phone. Peter is a travel writer based in Portland and the co-author of Where Is Your Toothbrush?
“Subaru Outbacks, crossovers and SUVs are very popular,” he said. “But as more people move here, we see more expensive, luxury cars especially in areas where there are a lot of apartments.”
Environmentally friendly four-wheel rides also fill the roadways. The Smart Fortwo sells in Oregon at 462 percent of the national average, according to Popular Mechanics. Two other subcompact cars – Mercedes-Benz B-Class and Chevrolet Spark — sell there at three times the national average, reported the magazine.
No matter the vehicle, the car culture has boomed in Oregon since its earliest days. Just a year after its 1859 entry into statehood, road construction began in earnest. In fact, the great need for roads on which to navigate the rugged terrain compelled the state to mandate “All able-bodied men between 21 and 50 years old are required to work two days a year on county roads, or pay $2 per day poll tax,” according to a report by the Oregon government.
Of course building the roads was only half the battle. Oregon has always struggled to maintain the thoroughfares in the face of its harsh climate. Although technology has made that easier, nature still brings surprises. The state rebuilt and continues to strengthen its roadways but the work is an ongoing challenge. Oregon is known for fierce storms that bring torrential rain, deep snow, and mudslides, noted Oregon Live in recapping a 2008 storm, one of it fiercest.
Still the often changeable and sometimes fierce weather doesn’t keep residents from taking to the roads.
“In Oregon, people are active and like to get out there,” said Los Angeles-based car enthusiast and former Oregon resident Heather Storm, host of the Velocity television show Garage Squad. “But it’s no exaggeration to say people are very pleasant in Oregon. I visit frequently because I enjoy the breathing room – the people are so natural and friendly.”
There are numerous skits in the IFC television sketch comedy show (such as “No You Go”) Portlandia that highlight the helpfulness and courtesy of drivers in that Oregon city and throughout the state. Though the writers employ some artistic exaggeration, the skits aren’t far off the mark, says Storm.
Drivers that come to four-way traffic stops will spend an inordinate amount of time waving to other drivers and giving them the right of way. And those that have car trouble will generally find themselves with a host of people who stop to help.
“In general, Oregon drivers are more patient than most in other areas,” said Storm. “They’re just not in a rush. They’ll stop and help anyone who is stranded.”
Racking Up The Miles
If you’re an average American driver, you log an average of 13,476 miles each year, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Oregonians drive about 14,032 miles per year, according to the most recent FHWA figures. That’s about the same distance as their California neighbors, who drive an average of 14,435 miles per year.
Wherever you drive, the cost of visiting scenic destinations, recreational spots or commuting to work not only puts wear-and-tear on your vehicle but drains cash from your pocket, too.
Gasoline, regular maintenance, including oil changes and tire replacements, and atypical expenses such as windshield replacement, totals about 0.26 per mile, according to My Money Design.com. If you drive 120-miles per day drive, five days a week you’re spending $31.22 each day or over $8,000 each year, according to the site. So the average U.S. driver spends $3,503.76 per year. Oregonians spend $3,648.32 per year, according to our calculations.
Urban versus Rural Driving
Statistics show that rural driving is more dangerous than urban driving. Certainly there are more accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists in urban areas, but figures from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that although 19 percent of U.S. residents live in rural areas, 30 percent of vehicle miles traveled and more than 50 percent of fatal crashes occur there.
“There are a lot of winding roads. It’s important to watch the speed limit and go slow, especially out in wine country (that stretches about 100 miles from Portland to Eugene),” said Sally Bany, co-founder of World of Speed, a nonprofit educational museum in Wilsonville, Oregon. “That’s especially true for people who aren’t used to being out in a lot of rain. It’s not slippery all the time, but this year we had a lot of rain and mudslides. It can be difficult when people aren’t used to it.”
Oregonians generally drive slowly, especially in adverse conditions, but breakdowns are common. “People watch out for each other here,” said Bany. “If someone breaks down, people stop and help.”
Urban driving in Oregon is different from in many other states due to the abundance of bicyclists and pedestrians. The watchword in urban areas, say Oregonians, is patience. Drive slowly and yield right of way as often as possible.
The Price of Gas
When drivers think of the ongoing cost of driving, the price of gas comes immediately to mind.
The average cost of gasoline in the U.S. as of May 2017 at $2.41 per gallon. On the West Coast, sans California, the price was $2.67 per gallon. With California included it was $2.88. In Oregon, the price was $2.76, according to GasBuddy. Like most states, Oregon’s gas prices fluctuate among regions. On May 4, the lowest regular gas prices in Oregon were $2.39 per gallon.
The Unemployment Rate
The unemployment rate in the U.S. was 4.5 percent at the end of March 2017, according to the National Counsel of Labor Statistics (NCLS). Oregon’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent during that same time, reported the NCLS.
Growth industries including Advanced Manufacturing (such as medical products), forestry and wood products, and high technology (software, internet publishing) are among the reasons for the state’s low unemployment rate, according to state information.
Employment plays a factor in driving throughout the U.S. As employment increases, so too do the miles driven as people drive to work and social, sporting and recreational events. In Oregon, the average commute to work is just under 23 minutes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Driving alone in a passenger vehicle is the most common way Oregonians commute to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In regards to other methods of getting to work, 11.9 percent took public transportation, 6.1 percent biked, 5.7 percent walked to work and 7.1 percent work from home.
Distracted driving is a major cause of driving dangers in Oregon, as it is throughout the rest of the U.S. Texting, emailing, talking, eating, drinking and even playing recorded music are among the most common distractions that lead to vehicle crashes.
In 2015, 3,477 people were killed in the U.S. due to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Between 2011-2015, there were 9,951 crashes that equaled 54 fatalities and 15, 150 injuries due to distracted driving in Oregon, according to the Oregon government. Such crashes are underreported, noted government officials, who call distracted driving in the state a “growing epidemic.”
This year, the state organized a task force to address the incidence of distracted driving and implement solutions. Educational and media campaigns are underway. So too is an amendment to the current cellphone statute to “broadening the definition of device usage and removing many exceptions.”
Teenagers Behind the Wheel
There’s little doubt that teenagers love to drive, but they often don’t realize the hazards involved.
Like most states, Oregon requires potential drivers to take written tests before they are issued instructional permits. Then teen driving applicants ages 16, 17, 18 or 19 must complete 50 hours of formal driver education or 100 hours of practice with parents before they are eligible to apply for drivers’ licenses.
Once training is completed, the driver is subject to the Graduated Driver Licensing laws. Since those laws were passed in 2000, the number of 16-year-old drivers involved in fatal or injury crashes has been cut in half, according to the state.
There is concern, though. Some parents may be undermining the training requirements by not carefully tracking the number of practice hours completed by teens, reported state officials.
As evidence they note teens that complete formal driver training have “much lower crash rates, traffic violations and suspended licenses than those who choose 100 hours of driving practice with their parents to fulfill the licensing requirements.”
In addition, the state reported that some parents might not enforce restrictions placed on student drivers at various times in the Graduated Driver Licensing process.
“Teens are sometimes so focused on getting their license, they don’t have the restrictions fully in mind,” noted state officials in one report. Restrictions include not having friends in the car, no driving between midnight and 5 a.m. and no texting or talking on a cellphone while driving.”
The state has published guidelines and reminder cards to make sure parents and teens can easily refresh their memories about the rules. Some requirements include:
Until age 18, drivers cannot operate a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device, including talking on a cellphone and texting. Hands-free accessories are not allowed. Once the driver turns 18, different restrictions may apply.
During the first six months of having a license drivers cannot have passengers under age 20 who are not members of their immediate families. They cannot drive between 12 and 5 a.m. except between home and work or home and school when no transportation option is available. The state lessens some of these restrictions when accompanied by a licensed driver age 25 or older.
During the second six months of licensure, the driver cannot have more than three passengers under the age of 20 who are not immediate family and cannot drive between 12 and 5 a.m. unless the driver follows the earlier restrictions.
Automobile Insurance in Oregon
No matter your age or license classification, all drivers in Oregon must carry all of the following insurance: Bodily injury liability; Property damage liability; Personal injury protection; Uninsured motorist insurance.
New residents have 30 days to obtain title and register their vehicles. A driver must have Oregon insurance to do so or the state noted they face “harsh consequences.”
The minimum liability insurance requirements for Oregon drivers are:
- $25,000 for bodily injury, per person.
- $50,000 for total bodily injury to others, per accident.
- $20,000 for property damage, per accident.
The minimum personal injury protection (PIP) insurance requirements are:
- Minimum $15,000 of PIP coverage per person.
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage:
- $25,000 per person
- $50,000 per crash
Uninsured drivers in Oregon could face:
- Driver’s license suspension
- Towing of the vehicle
- Responsibility for any towing fines/storage fees
Those without insurance involved in accidents face license suspension for one year and other penalties.
The State of Driving in Oregon
Whether their cars are classic, utilitarian, green, subcompact or a combination, Oregonians rely on them to fully enjoy the natural beauty of their state. Learning the polite, patient culture of the state and respecting its traffic and insurance laws is the best way to stay safe on roads where conditions vary widely.