By Heather Pearson
On October 1st, Oregon’s new distracted driving law began taking effect. It is now illegal to use or hold any electronic device while driving, including cell phones, GPS’s, laptops or tablets. Under these new regulations, drivers face stricter rules, higher fines for disobeying the law and possible jail time for those repeatedly caught using their device on the road.
Though using a cell phone while driving has long been illegal in the state, the old law was worded so that only someone texting or talking on their cell phone could be pulled over and ticketed, whereas the use of other apps or electronic devices did not constitute a primary offense. Thus, someone scrolling through Instagram on I5 couldn’t be ticketed, though someone texting and driving could. Now under House Bill 2597, the previous cell phone law has been expanded to include all forms of electronic distracted driving.
For many Willamette students, especially those new to Oregon, this law is easily misunderstood or ignored. Yet, a distracted driving ticket could easily mess up a student’s finances, driving record and car insurance fees. It’s worth spending the time to understand the new law.
Here’s what you need to know:
1) It’s completely illegal to text while driving unless using voice-to-text, and you can only talk on the phone if it is “hands-free”: that is, over Bluetooth, through speakerphone, or through headphones. You cannot hold your electronic device in hand while driving.
2) You can still use a GPS device or navigation app on your phone, so long as you use a “single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the device”. Destinations must be programmed before you begin driving, and if you need to type in an address, you need to pull over to do so. It’s okay to have the device mounted on your dashboard or in sight, but you cannot hold it in your hands.
3) You can still listen to music or other audio, so long as you are not holding your device. Again, you can touch your phone or music player with one touch, to change a song or skip ahead in a podcast. However, do not try to look up an artist or login to Spotify while driving. These are the kinds of infractions you can now be pulled over and ticketed for.
4) Even at stoplights or stop signs, typing in a phone number, address or song is still illegal. Someone in the driver’s seat can type something into an electronic device only when the car is legally parked. This means typing something in while driving through a parking lot is also not allowed.
5) Though this law specifically targets electronic-use while driving, you can still be ticketed if driving carelessly due to other forms of careless or distracted driving. Be careful when eating, drinking coffee or attempting to multitask in any form while at the wheel.
Fines for those pulled over the first time start at $260 and range up to $1,000. If you have been pulled over previously for distracted driving, or if you are involved in a crash due to an electronic device, fines range from $435 to $2,500. If you are caught for a third time, tickets range from $2,000 to $6,250 and could land you in jail for up to one year.
With fines this steep, students should be aware of the consequences of their actions while driving. Senior Holly Walsh recognizes that for those from out-of-state, these laws are new and old habits can be hard to forget, especially those from Arizona and Montana where no laws regulate cell phone use while on the road.
“Being from Arizona myself, I didn’t take the time to learn about the differences in the laws until I got pulled over for talking on the phone,” she recalled, “It’s your responsibility to know. Cops don’t care if you’re from out of state and your state’s law on distracted driving is different.”
The Oregon Department of Transportation reports that almost 3,000 people are injured every year due to distracted driving, and that an average of 11 people die annually due to the use of electronic devices on the road. Each of these deaths and accidents are preventable, they remind drivers.
“We see distracted driving as a very real issue in addressing safety in our community,” states Salem Police Lieutenant Dave Okada, “and [we] will duly enforce any and all laws.”