What Oregon Drivers Need to Know About Distracted Driving

Recently, I’ve been writing quite a bit about Oregon’s DUII laws. I’ve posted about the most common DUII misconceptions, as well as your rights when it comes to refusing a breathalyzer test. Now I’d like to talk about another serious danger on Oregon’s roads: distracted driving. In today’s post, we’ll talk about the current distracted driving laws in Oregon, as well as new legislation that might be changing the laws soon.

What is Distracted Driving?

The Oregon Department of Distracted Driving (ODOT) says that distracted driving is when a driver, “voluntarily diverts attention to something not related to driving.”

Distracted driving is very dangerous. Some studies suggest that distracted driving may be as dangerous as drunk driving. This doesn’t mean that drunk driving is safe, just that both are incredibly reckless and dangerous choices.

Examples of Distracted Driving

Do you find yourself doing any of these things when you’re driving?

  • Looking at a phone, GPS satnav system, or map

  • Listening to a phone call, your car’s stereo, or even talking with a passenger

  • Using your hands to adjust something other than the steering wheel like radio dial, your phone’s touchscreen, or putting an address into your GPS

In addition, distracted driving can even be caused by your thoughts in addition to your actions. If you’re more focused on what you’ll do when you get home, what you need to buy at the grocery store or something that happened at work, those are all examples of distracted driving.

By The Numbers: Distracted Driving in Oregon

The following stats are from the years 2010-2014:

  • Nearly 17,000 crashes caused by distracted driving

  • Only 10% were the result of cell phone usage. This is a much lower percentage than most people would guess!

  • Over 15,000 injuries and 50 fatalities were the results of distracted driving.

  • Every 3 hours, an Oregon driver is involved in a crash caused by distracted driving.

  • Nearly 90,000 drivers were cited for distracted driving.

Current Distracted Driving Laws in Oregon

Currently, the distracted driving laws in Oregon are a little confusing and focus on the use of electronic devices.

ORS 811.507 prohibits the use of a “mobile device designed to receive and transmit text and voice communication while driving.” However, a court ruling in 2015 found that a driver can only be pulled over for texting or talking on the phone while driving. Reading on a Kindle while driving, for example, isn’t a crime in itself and can’t be the sole reason an officer pulls you over.

So what is illegal right now (as of March, 2017) when it comes to distracted driving in Oregon?

  • All drivers are banned from using a hand-held cell phone. Even if you aren’t speeding or breaking any other laws, you can be pulled over just for using a cell phone while driving. You are allowed to talk on the phone if you’re using a hands-free headset.

  • Drivers under the age of 18 can’t use a hand-held cell phone while driving-- even if they’re using a Bluetooth (or other hands-free) headset.

  • Drivers can’t send, receive, read, or compose text messages while driving. Remember that includes when you’re stopped in traffic or at a red light. You always need to be aware of your surroundings whenever you’re driving!

What’s the Penalty For Distracted Driving?

If you’re stopped for distracted driving under the current Oregon statute, you can be fined up to $500. This is in addition to any other fines or punishments you receive-- like if you run a stop sign while texting or cause an accident because you were talking on the phone.

Pending Distracted Driving Legislation in Oregon

In February, 2017, a new bill (HB 2597) was proposed to close the loopholes and strengthen the penalties for distracted driving in Oregon. The bill would broaden the range of devices covered by the law, changing language from “mobile communication device” to the more encompassing “mobile electronic device.”

For example, this would cover devices including but not limited to:

  • Kindles and other ebook readers

  • iPods and MP3 players

  • Video game systems

The new legislation would also allow first-time offenders to complete a distracted driving education program in lieu of paying a fine (unless they caused a crash as a result of their distracted driving). It would also increase the maximum fine from $500 to $2000.

An amendment to Oregon’s distracted driving legislation, also proposed in early 2017 aims to make the laws in Oregon even tougher. It would expand prohibited activities to include: using Facebook or other social media or browsing the internet. In addition, it would make distracted driving a Class A misdemeanor (it is currently a less-serious Class C offense).

In addition, this amendment would add a “3-strikes” style component to the punishment. More than 3 convictions in a 10-year period would become a felony.

Punishments would include:

  • Maximum of 1-year jail time, a $6,250 fine (or both) for a first offense

  • Penalties of up to $10,000 for multiple offenses

Is Distracted Driving in Oregon Really a Serious Problem?

Yes.

Distracted driving, whether caused by cell phone use or just inattentiveness causes crashes that result in serious injury and death. These crashes are preventable. Drivers must focus on the task at hand: driving safely with their full attention.

It’s unfortunate that distracted driving laws in Oregon haven’t kept up with advancements in technology and the way people use technology. Police officers are issuing fewer citations for distracted driving but crashes are on the rise.

In Lake Oswego, for example, officers issued 60% fewer warnings and citations after a court ruling limited the scope of the current distracted driving laws. But statewide, car crash injuries are up over 50% in the past 5 years-- many caused by cell phone use and distracted driving.

My Final Thoughts

Here in Oregon (and across the country) distracted driving is causing auto accidents. The laws aren’t accurately reflecting the dangerous ways that people are using technology while driving.

What’s the best thing to do? No matter what the law says, put the phone away while you’re driving. You’ll be a safer driver and won’t run the risk of being pulled over for distracted driving in Oregon.

Finally, here’s something to think about. It’s 2017 and the average person spends nearly 10% of their waking hours looking at their cell phone. What an incredible difference from just 10 years ago-- the iPhone wasn’t even around then!

Technology is changing the world. We’re still learning how it affects our safety and the safety of those around us. I hope that we continue to improve distracted driving laws to accurately reflect our use of technology and to make Oregon safer for everyone.