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Ask a cop: 'But I had the phone on speaker!'

Editor's note: Every week a Lake Oswego police officer answers your questions in this space. Send questions to Reporter Cliff Newell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call him at 503-636-1281, ext. 105.

Can I use my cellphone while driving?

O.R.S. 811.507 — Operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device, commonly is known as the cellphone law. This law states, “A person commits the offense of operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device if the person, while operating a motor vehicle on a highway, uses a mobile communication device.”

The most common explanation I hear when I stop drivers for using their cellphone is that the phone was set to speaker and the driver was not holding it to their ear.

What I try to explain to drivers who are in violation of this statute is they are not prohibited from using their cellphone as long as they are using a “hands-free accessory.” Remember, a hands-free accessory means any attachment or built-in feature to the phone or the vehicle that allows the driver to maintain both hands on the steering wheel. So, if you’re holding your phone, regardless of whether it’s on speaker, it’s a violation.

Today our cellphones are capable of a whole host of additional functions like sending text messages, writing and checking email, searching the Internet, and using it as a GPS. If you’re like me, you use your phone for all of these tasks. The thing to remember is if you use your phone for any of these reasons while operating a vehicle and the phone is in your hand, you are in violation of using a mobile communication device.

As with any law, there are exceptions to the mobile communication device statute. The statute does not apply to a person who activates or deactivates a mobile communication device or a function of the device or who uses the device for voice communication if the person:

a) Is summoning medical or other emergency help if no other person is capable;

b) Is using a mobile communication device for the purpose of farming or agricultural operations;

c) Is operating an ambulance or emergency vehicle;

d) Is 18 years of age or older AND is using a hands-free accessory;

e) Is operating a motor vehicle while providing public safety services or emergency services;

f) Is operating a motor vehicle while acting in the scope of the person’s employment as a public safety officer;

g) Is operating a tow vehicle or roadside assistance vehicle while acting in the scope of their employment;

h) Holds a valid amateur radio operator license or any other license issued by the FCC and is operating an amateur radio;

i) Is operating a two-way radio device that transmits radio communication transmitted by a station operating on an authorized frequency within service bands in accordance with rules of the FCC;

j) Is operating a vehicle owned or contracted by a utility for the purpose of installing, repairing, maintaining, operating or upgrading utility service, including but not limited to natural gas, electricity, water or telecommunications, while acting in the scope of their employment;

k) Is using a function of the device that allows for only one-way voice communication while the person is:

A. Operating a motor vehicle in the scope of their employment;

B. Providing transit services; or

C. Participating in public safety or emergency service activities.

I like to explain to drivers stopped in violation of this statute that, while they may be very careful drivers themselves, there are plenty of people on our roadways who are not. If you are encumbered by the use of your phone, regardless of the function being utilized, your ability to quickly react to any sudden changes in traffic around you is likely diminished and this could present a particularly hazardous situation.

As a traffic officer, I see many drivers in violation of the mobile communication device statute and often it is accompanied by several other violations. These violations include failing to drive within your lane, impeding traffic, failing to obey a traffic control device, speeding, and failing to signal lane changes. These are all moving violations that not only present dangers to the phone user, but to other people in and along the roadway.

If you know you’re the type of person who instinctively answers their phone when it rings, I recommend purchasing a wireless headset that you can leave in the car and then instill a habit of putting that headset on every time you get into the car. If you don’t have a headset or a Bluetooth feature in your car, try to make your calls, check your emails and texts, or get your directions before you start driving. Or exercise the simplest option and just leave the phone alone and concentrate on driving.

Whatever you are attempting to use your phone for while driving, ask yourself if the benefit of its use outweighs the potential danger it presents to you and those around you. If you make the choice to use the phone, know that activity, at the very least, could net you a $110 citation.

Drive safely.

—Officer Clayton Simon

Lake Oswego Police Department — Traffic Division




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