New law aims to curb distracted driving

Distracted Driving

Recent legislation expands distracted driving penalties

In addition to safety concerns, using an electronic device while driving now also carries heightened legal risks.

A new bill went into effect at the beginning of this month expanding restrictions on distracted driving. This law prohibits holding or using any mobile electronic device beyond one touch or swipe, according to Traci Pearl, the highway safety section manager of the transportation division at the Oregon Department of Transportation. The main changes enacted by this legislation are increased fines and the broadening of restrictions to include the use of any electronic devices, not only cell phones.

“Distracted driving unfortunately has seen a major spike in crash causation in the last ten years nationwide, so this is one way of trying to address that problem,” Pearl said.

According to a fact sheet on HB 2597 released by ODOT, due to the increased fines a first time offense not related to a crash is now a Class B violation with a ticket of $260, and a maximum fine of $1000. A second violation or one related to a crash is a Class A violation with a ticket of $435.

Garrett Lindgren, a second-year mechanical engineering student, was unfamiliar with the details of the law, aside from an awareness that it was meant to further restrict the legal use of electronic devices while driving. However, Lindgren said that he believes this is a good response to the underappreciated risks of driving.

“We just kind of take for granted that (driving) is one of the most dangerous activities that we currently participate in,” Lindgren said. “I think anything that lowers the rate of accidents is a good idea.”

According to Daniel Duncan, a lieutenant with the Corvallis Police Department, this recent legislation has not meant substantial change for traffic patrols. CPD is, however, reaching out to the city attorney’s office for guidance to further align police understanding and enforcement of the law with the intentions of the legislation.

“It seems like at this point this house bill just further defined what we already had,” Duncan said.

“It extends what used to be more of a cell phone law to all mobile electronic devices.”

According to Pearl, the motivation behind this law is to keep drivers focused on the road with both hands on the wheel. As a result of this, the only permitted interaction with electronic devices is one touch or swipe to activate or deactivate a function or the device itself. There are exceptions to this rule for circumstances such as a medical emergency or if the car is safely parked—not including traffic stops.

ODOT will continue to monitor crash data in coming years to evaluate whether this law has helped to deter distracted driving, according to Pearl

“Our main goal is to educate and look at the data, and see if we made a difference,” Pearl said.

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