May 1, 2011

Law enforcement and lawmakers in Oregon agree that the hands-free cell phone law is often misinterpreted. Some argue that people need to be responsible for their own actions, and that more laws, different laws or amended laws like House Bill 3186 won’t solve the problem. Drivers will be distracted;accidents will happen.

Still, according to the captain of the Portland Police Bureau’s traffic division, officers in the city, if not around the state, have many examples of citing people for driving while holding a cell phone to their ear. They have almost as many examples of people who tell the court the call was work-related, successfully ducking the citation and the fine.

Perhaps an amendment to the law approved by the 2009 Oregon State Legislature could help the tickets and fines to stick. That law made it possible for a defendant to claim he was exempt from penalties because he was driving in the scope of his employment and that the vehicle was necessary for his job.

As proposed, House Bill 3186 would clarify what the original bill meant by “work-related” cell phone calls. They didn’t mean realtors or bed-and-breakfast owners, proponents say. They meant emergency personnel — police, ambulance drivers — and utility crews. Tow trucks and other vehicles that assist with roadside situations are also included.

The bill removes one restriction that could be problematic: It allows “providers of transit services” to use a hand-held cell phone; the existing law limits the exception to transit services for the disabled or senior citizens.

The bill will also clarify the law for texting while driving: It’s against the law. For everyone.

Now that the bill has passed the House, it will move on to the Senate. If it does become law, the roads could be safer for everyone.

Distracted driving has reached epidemic proportions. In 2009 alone, almost 5,500 people died and more than 450,000 were injured in distraction-related accidents on American roads. Distracted driving accounts for 18 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities. One study showed that using a cell phone while driving — hands-free or not — has the same effect on a driver’s reactions as a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent, the lower limit of legal intoxication.


OregonLive.com, “Oregon House passes bill intended to toughen state’s hands-free cellphone law,” Michelle Cole, 05/04/11


Categories: Blog