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Cell phone bill led by Macpherson passes House

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Legislation carried by Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, in the Oregon House of Representatives would prohibit use of cell phones and text messaging by drivers under age 18.

House Bill 2872 passed the House Monday by a vote of 54 to 3.

'Learning to drive safely is hard enough,' Macpherson said. 'Our young people shouldn't have the added distraction of talking on a cell phone while they drive.'

House Bill 2872 would apply to the use of a cell phone or text messaging by a driver with a 'provisional' license, the restricted right to drive issued to 16 and 17 year olds. Noncompliance would constitute a Class B traffic violation, but could be enforced only if the driver is detained for another violation.

'Our laws already restrict the number of passengers young drivers with provisional licenses can carry with them. This restriction recognizes the reality that conversations with peers distract inexperienced drivers,' Macpherson said. 'But our laws now place no restriction on the electronic conversations the driver can have with peers who are not inside the vehicle. This bill would extend the restriction to conversations that are even more distracting.'

If the legislation is enacted, Oregon would join more than a dozen other states that restrict cell phone use by young drivers. However, it still stands behind neighboring states in restrictions on cell use while driving. California enacted a requirement of hands-free technology by all drivers last year and Washington enacted similar legislation in recent weeks.

House Bill 2872 goes to the Senate for consideration. If enacted by the Senate and signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, it would take effect at the end of the year.

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The issue of cell phones and driving is a special concern for Macpherson. Last September, the Lake Oswego Review ran a citizen's view from him on the subject. A portion of his comments follow:

On May 30, 2006, a Jeep Wrangler driven by an 18 year old collided with a bicycle near Medford, causing the cyclist critical brain injuries. That event was notable to me for several reasons.

First, the victim is a relative of my wife. Second, as a cyclist myself, I am concerned about the frequency of collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles. And finally, as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives for Lake Oswego and nearby areas, I have a responsibility to improve the safety of the traveling public.

The young driver in this case was turning left at a suburban intersection on a sunny afternoon. The cyclist was approaching the intersection. The Jeep driver cut the corner as he turned, striking the cyclist, who was without fault.

Why would anyone make such a mistake? In this case, the driver was talking to a friend on a cell phone. Telephone records show that the conversation had been going on for seven minutes when the collision occurred.

There is mounting evidence that cell phone use impairs a motorist's ability to drive safely. A recent study by the University of Utah concluded that a driver using a cell phone can be as dangerous as a drunken driver.

It's well known that the young have more accidents than more experienced drivers. According to the National Safety Council, only 13 percent of drivers are under age 25, but those young drivers have 29 percent of all accidents. Any parent who has paid auto insurance premiums on a teenager understands that all too well.

It's also apparent that young people today use cell phones a lot. As shown by this case, the combination of inexperience and cell phone use can be tragic, even lethal.

Oregon already has a system of provisional licensing for young drivers. Under a provisional license, for example, young drivers cannot carry young passengers who are not family members. That restriction recognizes the distraction created by conversations with friends.

But the friend need not be in the vehicle to create a distraction.

For the safety of all who use the public roadways, Oregon needs to prohibit the use of cell phones by young drivers until they have greater experience. Age 21, the same point at which we permit young adults to consume alcohol, would provide a boundary with some logic.