No Need for Speed

A town re-regulates its roads


Sometimes a stop sign is not a stop sign. In the scenic planned community of Sunriver, Oregon, residents and visitors can glide through intersections without fear of a ticket. Cops who clock cars going 35 miles per hour in 25-mph lanes decline to make arrests. The neighborhood has liberated itself from minor traffic regulations—everything but major "traffic crimes," such as drunk driving.

It can do this because the roads are private. Legally, Oregon has two kinds of roads: highways and "premises open to the public." The second group—for example, a mall's private parking lot—needn't obey the same regulations enforced on public roads. In February, in an effort to lighten the load for Sunriver's drivers and private police, the Sunriver Owners Association exercised its right to reduce the regulation of the roads in the five-square-mile community.

Unfortunately, that meant that no police, public or private, were allowed to enforce those road rules. Not everyone in the community was happy about that. "If you go by people expressing their opinions in public sessions," says Doug Seator, chairman of the Sunriver Service District Managing Board, "about 90 percent of them want full policing to resume."

After some consternation, state Rep. Gene Whisnant, a Republican and a Sunriver resident, has sponsored a bill giving the community (and Oregon's other private community, Black Butte Ranch) more flexibility. The law lets the towns prosecute more driving offenses while keeping the roads' private status. The emergency bill passed the House and will probably win the governor's signature. When that happens, Sunriver's era of frontier lawlessness will come to an end and the residents can add up the damage.

"A few people have been speeding," Seator says. "Nobody's been hurt. We haven't had any accidents or injuries."