Distracted driving: ’No touch’ law carries steep fines for device users

October, 2017 Posted in Community
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By Mary Owen

Oregon Department of Transportation statistics show that a distracted driver crash occurs every two and a half hours in Oregon.

To help prevent these accidents, a new Oregon law will go into effect on Oct. 1, specifically targeting distracted driving while using an electronic device.

“The hope is to reduce traffic accidents and increase public safety,” said Stayton Police Chief Rich Sebens. “In 2016, our officers stopped vehicles 48 times for cell phone use. So far to date, 98 have been stopped for 2017.”

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, from 2011-2015, 917 crashes caused by drivers using a cell phone at the time of the crash resulted in 14 fatalities and 1,330 injuries. NHTSA reported that number to include 110 crashes resulting in 166 injuries caused by drivers aged 16-18.

Oregon House Bill 2597 makes it illegal to drive while holding or using and electronic device, and exceptions are few and may have to be proven in court, if ticketed.

“The law applies to mobile electronic devices of all stripes, including cell phones, tablets, laptops and GPS units,” Sebens said. “The law does allow for ‘single button push’ activation or deactivation for the purpose of answering on a hands-free device or to activate a GPS route. Anything more than that the person must pull over and stop. Stopping at a stop light or stop sign does not count for being stopped.”

The new law does not apply to drivers 18 and older when using hands-free or built-in devices.

“Drivers who are 17 or younger may not use mobile devices, even with a hands-free device,” Sebens said.

Drivers may use their cell phone to call for emergency medical help, but only if no one else in the vehicle is capable of making the call, Sebens said.

“Emergency responders may use their cell phones when responding to an emergency call, including in personal vehicles,” he added of ambulance, police, fire, emergency vehicle operators, or EMS providers in the scope of their employment.

Of costs to drivers, Sebens said, “Under the current law, the fine was $160, with no increase for repeat offenders. As of Oct. 1, a first offense will be a fine of $250. A second offense, or a first offense that contributes to a crash, will be a fine of $435. A third violation within ten years could be a misdemeanor with six months of jail time and a fine of up to $2,500.”

For a first offense that does not contribute to a crash, the court may suspend the fine if the driver completes an approved distracted driving avoidance class, and shows proof to the court, within four months. Only the fine is suspended; the violation will still be recorded on the offender’s driving record.

For information about this law and distracted driving, go to ODOT’s website at www.oregon.gov/ODOT.

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