When a driver pays attention to something not related to driving that uses their eyes, ears or hands, they are considered a distracted driver. They may be looking at something other than the road, hearing something not related to driving, handling something other than the steering wheel, or thinking about something other than driving.
According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, from 2013-2017 there were 1,089 fatal and injury crashes involving a driver (all ages) reported to have been using a cell phone at the time of the crash. This resulted in 20 fatalities and 1,557 people injured.
Starting in January of 2018, Oregon Police and State Patrol began enforcing a stricter set of distracted driving laws, focused on keeping people from using their cell phones while driving. The list of exceptions for being held responsible for distracted driving is short:
- When using hands-free or built-in devices, if you are 18 years of age or older.
- Use of a single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the device.
- When parked safely, i.e., stopped in a designated parking spot. It is NOT legal to use the device when stopped at a stop light, stop sign, in traffic, etc.
- While providing or summoning medical help and no one else is available to make the call.
- Tow truck or bus drivers following the federal rules for CDL holders.
In addition, there are stricter punishments as of January 2018 for distracted drivers. A first offense that doesn’t contribute to a class is a Class B violation, with a maximum fine of $1,000. A second offense is $2,000 (or a first offense that contributes to a crash) and a third offense in ten years and a possible 6 months in jail, plus a $2,500 fine.
Fortunately, for a first offense that does not contribute to a crash, the court may suspend the fine if a driver completes an approved distracted driving avoidance class and show proof to the court within four months. It is important to note that only the fine is suspended–the violation will still be recorded on the driver’s record.
For more information, you can consult this fact sheet on distracted driving. If you are facing a distracted driving charge in Oregon and you have questions, please contact us and we can help you understand the law, and your rights.