Eyes ahead, hands off

Oregon law bans phone use while driving

Shane Williams
Sgt. Christopher Hanneson stands outside the Mary Spilde Center downtown on Oct. 5.

Oregon’s updated distracted driving law, effective Oct. 1, 2017, will result in hefty fines for drivers caught holding and using mobile electronic devices. The law was enacted to prevent deaths, injuries and damage from accidents.

Law enforcement officials, including Lane Community College’s Public Safety department, are paying more attention to drivers’ phone use and issuing citations for breaking this law.

The vagueness of the previous wording in the law led to difficulty with enforcement. The new text lays out what sort of interactions with what sort of devices are prohibited.

It is now illegal to drive while holding or using a mobile electronic device. This includes devices not attached to your vehicle that can be used for communication, navigation, internet access and entertainment. Examples of such devices could be phones, tablets, navigational devices and laptops.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the following exceptions are permitted:

  • Using hands-free or built-in devices, for those 18 or older.
  • Use of a single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the device.
  • When parked safely. However, it’s not legal to use the device when stopped at a stop light, stop sign, in traffic, etc.
  • Calling for medical help, if nobody else can do it for you.
  • Truck and bus drivers following CDL rules.
  • HAM radio users 18 and older.

Consequences for breaking the law should curb the temptation to use a phone while driving. First time results in a fine of $260. If the offense results in a crash or the driver has a second offense, the fine increases to $435. A third offense within 10 years could result in a misdemeanor charge, six months in jail and a fine up to $2,500. If the first offense doesn’t result in a crash, there is an option to take a distracted driving course within four months of the offense, show proof, and have the fee suspended. The offense will still go on the permanent record.

This update to the law comes in response to nationwide trends of problems caused by distracted driving.

Research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2015, 3,477 were killed and 391,000 people in America were injured as a result of distracted driving. It’s the cause of 14 percent of crashes. Part of passing the new law was also launching a safety campaign by ODOT called Drive Healthy, which uses the slogan, “Hands on the wheel, mind on the road.”

National data from NHTSA shows that for those involved in fatal crashes, people from age 20 to 29 make up only eight percent of total drivers, but 27 percent of distracted drivers. The 20 to 29 age bracket accounted for 33 percent of crashes with fatalities where the driver was using a cell phone. Roughly 37 percent of Lane students were ages 20 to 29 in 2016, according to Lane’s web page.

To help drivers avoid the temptation to touch their phones while driving, there’s a good variety of hands-free devices available. Phone mounts attach to various places in a vehicle will hold a phone in place for easy GPS navigation. They are typically available for about $7 to $15. Bluetooth earpieces and speakers can make and receive phone calls and can often adjust music volume. Their prices are in the $30 to $65 range. Smartwatches function as an extension of a phone, and include microphones that can be used for voice commands with Siri or OK Google, and simple voice to text responses. They range from $120 to $320.

Public Safety Sergeant Christopher Hanneson said he has seen seeing people driving more carefully after the passing of the law in early October. He also stated that he and his fellow officers are now paying closer attention to driver’s phone use inside of cars.

“Focusing hard on this law is going to train the public to put the device down,” said Hanneson. He looks forward to safer roads and a safer Lane. “I’m gonna do my best for all the pedestrians and drivers on campus to make sure they’re safe.”