Oregon's distracted-driving law gets tougher on Oct. 1
A new distracted-driving law that took effect on Oct. 1 will expand Oregon's existing ban using cellphones while driving to include all electronic mobile devices.
The new law, which is aimed at improving safety conditions on the state's roads, will also stiffen fines and penalties.
Lake Oswego Police Sgt. Clayton Simon, who had a hand in drafting the new law, said the LOPD will be conducting traffic enforcement details in the coming months with a specific focus on the changes, although officers will try to make it more about outreach and education during the initial weeks.
"We do have some planned enforcement details that we'll be doing here in the future, once the new cell law takes effect, as kind of a campaign to bring awareness," he said. "(We will be) taking appropriate enforcement action if it's necessary, but obviously trying to educate people initially to kind of bring everyone up to speed about the differences in the new law is important."
Drivers who talk on the phone are more than four times more likely to be involved in a crash — and those who text are more than 23 times more likely, according to a report by the Oregon Department of Transportation's Distracted Driving Task Force.
For that reason, the new law prohibits drivers from using electronic devices in any way that would prevent them from keeping their eyes on the road and both hands on the steering wheel. Phone calls are still allowed if drivers use hands-free accessories such as a Bluetooth headset, routing the call to the car's stereo system or speakerphone — but only if the phone isn't in the driver's hand.
"It's not a 'no cellphone law.' It's a 'hands-free' law," Simon said. "That means you can't, for example, turn on the speakerphone but then keep holding the phone in your hand — we run into that a lot."
The law uses the phrase "mobile electronic device" rather than "communications device" in order to account for the full array of modern devices and their uses, and it specifies that "driving" includes idling in a traffic jam or at a red light. A driver can only start using the phone if the vehicles has "stopped in a location where it can safely remain stationary," such as a parking space or pulled off to the side of the road.
There are a number of exceptions spelled out in the law, Simon said, although none of them apply to drivers younger than 18:
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.
Traci Pearl, a manager with the Oregon Department of Transportation's Safety Division, said a mounted phone is a safer alternative to looking down at the seat or console, but both ways are legal.
Single touch or swipe: Changes to the law allow drivers 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.
"If you can push one button to call the office, you are OK, but if you have to dial a phone number, that is not OK," Pearl said.
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.
HAM radio operators: Old-school HAM radio operators could be a safety net for communication in the case of a natural disaster, such as an 8.0 earthquake, when other communication systems are down. That earned them an exception to the new restrictions.
Starting Sunday, violators across the state 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.
"The intent is to get phones out of people's hands," Tannenbaum said. "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."