Oregon Drivers Are No Longer Allowed to Hold Cell Phones While Driving, Starting Oct. 1

You could be fined up to $1,000 for a first-time offense, even if usage doesn't contribute to a crash.

(Roman Pohorecki)

It's time to stop texting while driving—and checking your email, sending a Tweet, and scrolling through Instagram while driving.

For real this time.

Starting Oct. 1, Oregon drivers are no longer allowed to touch an electronic device while driving, except for a single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the device.

The bill will close a gap in the current law, which prohibits drivers from using their phones for texting or calling. House Bill 2597 specifies that drivers can't hold or touch a mobile electronic device "for text messaging, voice communication, entertainment, navigation, accessing the Internet or producing electronic mail," other than a single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the device.

Senator Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) was a chief sponsor of the bill. She was also the backer of Oregon's first cell phone and driving bill that passed in 2009.

"I had tried as early as 2005 to get a cell phone bill, because of the research that shows that talking on a cell phone and—God forbid—texting was just as dangerous as driving drunk," Burdick tells WW. "We've cut down the drunk driving accident level, but the impact of distracted driving is really serious."

The new law also comes off the recommendation of the Oregon Department of Transportation Distracted Driving Task Force, which found that 4,000 crashes in 2014 alone were caused by distracted driving and 75 percent of drivers admitted to driving distracted alone.

"There was still evidence that people were violating the law," Burdick says. "A lot of what we try to do in bills like this is to create white lines for law enforcement, so when law enforcement pulls over somebody they can be clear on what the violation is."

But some believe the new law still has a significant loophole.

According to KATU-TV, the bill states that the section of the bill prohibiting drivers from holding mobile devices does not apply to someone "who activates or deactivates a mobile [communication] electronic device or a function of the device." Because the "function of this device," isn't defined in the bill, it could be a loophole allowing people like Uber and Lyft drivers to still use their phones to accept rides.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, it will ultimately be up to law enforcement to decide about ticketing; courts will decide what are and are not violations around the "loophole."

"As an example, it would most likely be considered illegal to dial a phone number but it would most likely be considered legal if you could call that person with one touch or one swipe," says Traci Pearl, a manager with the Transportation Safety Division.

The law also strengthens punishment for violating the law, with a $1,000 max first-time fine if the offense, even if it doesn't contribute to a crash.

The bill has some exemptions. Drivers can use phones while in a designated parking spot, but not while stopped in traffic or at a stop sign, unless making a call to receive or provide medical help, and nobody else in the car is capable of doing so. HAM radio operators 18 and older and emergency response providers are also exempt.

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