Oregon's new distracted driving law (effective Oct.1) makes it illegal to use a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle. If I text while riding my bike with added electric motor, am I going to get a legal dope slap? —Dazed and Confused
Sometimes in these situations it's best to begin by examining the text of the law itself. Oregon Revised Statutes 811.507(2) clearly states:
"A person commits the offense of operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device if the person, while operating a motor vehicle on a highway, uses a mobile communication device."
Who says legal prose has to be dull? This bold declaration, almost Jeffersonian in its frankness, is probably even now causing readers citywide to fall about with many a cry of "Ain't that the truth?" and "You've said a mouthful, brother!"
But seriously—nominees for the 2017 "No Shit, Sherlock" Award for legal prose aside—the point at issue here is what constitutes a motor vehicle. The statute doesn't define the term.
When a similar law passed in 2010, some sharp-eyed cyclists noticed that ORS 814.400(2)(a) states that "A bicycle is a vehicle for the purposes of the vehicle code," and worried that cyclists might face some sort of consequences for failing to obey traffic laws.
Luckily, this calamity did not come to pass: While a bicycle is legally a vehicle, it is not a motor vehicle, and the law recognizes the difference.
"Yes, I know all that," I hear you saying. "That's why I asked about my motorized bicycle."
Oh, right. Well, you're in luck: ORS 814.405 (am I a lawyer yet?) provides that "An electric assisted bicycle shall be considered a bicycle, rather than a motor vehicle, for purposes of the Oregon Vehicle Code."
As long as your e-bike doesn't go faster than 20 mph, you can cruise Tinder on it all day without running afoul of Oregon state law.