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Friday, April 12, 2024

Oregon gets tougher on distracted driving


A new distracted driving law in Oregon builds on an existing ban against using cellphones while driving to include all electronic mobile devices, effective Oct. 1.

Drivers who talk on the phone are more than four times, and those who text are more than 23 times, more likely to have a crash, according to a report by the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Distracted Driving Task Force.

Violators face a fine of $130 to $1,000 for their first offense, $220 to $2,500 for their second offense, and a Class B misdemeanor conviction with a minimum fine of $2,000 and up to six months in jail for their third offense.
First-time offenders can avoid the fine by taking a distracted driving avoidance course, but the violation will remain on their record.

There are a few limited exceptions to the ban, and none of them apply to drivers younger than 18. They are:
• Hands-free devices: Hands-free or built-in devices activated by voice command or activated while off the road are exempt from the ban.
Drivers also may talk on the phone while driving, if the phone is set to speaker mode and is not in their hand, said Lt. Timothy Tannenbaum of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“You can have a conversation while it’s on your dashboard, or on the seat next to you, as long as you’re not having to type in numbers or manipulate the phone,” he said.

Drivers are allowed a single touch or swipe of a screen or button to activate or deactivate a device or function.

This is the exception that allows drivers to answer a phone call, or start a navigation map. It also is meant to allow Uber and Lyft drivers to respond to calls for service.
• Parked: If one swipe was inadequate to find a desired destination, a driver could, under the law, pull over on the side of the road or in a parking space and legally use their electronic mobile device to, say, type in an address. But don’t try to do it at a stop sign or stop light. You could get a ticket.
• Emergencies: Drivers who are experiencing a medical emergency and have no passengers may use a mobile electronic device to summon help.
• Truck and bus drivers: The law makes exceptions to the regulations for truck and bus drivers, who cannot be cited provided they are abiding by federal rules for commercial driver’s licensees.
• Radio traffic: CB users, bus drivers, utility and truck drivers may use a two-way radio only for employment purposes.
Emergency responders: Police, paramedics and firefighters may use electronic mobile devices when responding to an emergency call.

The stricter law was a response to an incident involving a driver who was stopped because a trooper reportedly saw the glow of a cellphone illuminate her as she drove. The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled the trooper had no probable cause to stop her, because using a cellphone wasn’t against the law. It was only illegal to use a cellphone to talk or text.

House Bill 2597 “makes the law compliant with the intent,” Tannenbaum said. “The intent was to get phones out of people’s hands. It’s not hard to tell who is manipulating a phone. Surfing the Internet or checking Facebook while driving is just as dangerous as talking or texting.”