McMinnville officials have decided to stop approving night races due to safety concerns. The ban could be temporary or permanent.
“This isn’t an issue of whether you run or you don’t run,” said city attorney Tim Pirtle on Tuesday night. “It’s an issue of whether you run during the daylight hours or after dark.”
During the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Aug. 11, Pirtle voiced concerns about the lack of visibility with motorists not being able to see race participants in the dark. At that time, Pirtle said concerns were based on firsthand experiences during the Downtown After Dark 5K offered at Main Street Live on July 24.
A meeting of the city’s Safety Committee was held Tuesday night to discuss those issues further. On the committee are Aldermen Mike Neal, Everett Brock and Ryle Chastain.
“I raised a concern to the full board about the night runs,” said Pirtle. “What I related was antidotal. It was simply my experience in encountering the runners on a fun run in connection with the Main Street Live music event. I went beyond that.”
He presented statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, dated April 2014.
“The stats were from 2012, the last year that statistics were available,” said Pirtle. “Of the pedestrian fatalities during that year, 70 percent of those accidents happened after dark.”
Pirtle warned the city could be held liable for injury or death of a race participant if it assumes responsibility for safety during the run.
“If the city takes operational control over an activity, as is the case here where the Police Department takes operational control over the conduct of the run, then the city’s immunity against a lawsuit is removed. As a matter of law, the city could be held liable for negligence in the operational management of the run. We are not immune from lawsuit if someone is injured or killed during one of these fun runs.”
McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton said he held a conversation with Vice Mayor Ben Newman after the board meeting and discussed the need to increase policing as far as safety is concerned.
“I think Ben had a good idea. If we are going to continue to do these, we need to get strict on where they are happening and make sure volunteers are in place. Volunteers have been a huge problem this year. Five minutes before the race is ready to start, half the volunteers are not in place. I’ve been reluctant to say ‘Shut it down, until you get volunteers in place.’”
The city’s current policy requires racers to wear something reflective. Denton says that’s not enough.
“I don’t think reflective is enough. I think they need something that lights up. If you give them something to carry or wear and they cross the finish line without it, they are disqualified. That’s my thoughts on it.”
Denton agreed with Pirtle that night races are dangerous.
“I agree with Tim wholeheartedly. Night races are dangers and they scare me,” he said.
Brock made a motion to stop approving night race requests until the committee has time to consider the information and decide “if we want to continue to do this.” The measure passed unanimously.