Almost 18 months ago Oregon joined a handful of other states that have made it illegal to drive a vehicle while using a cell phone unless the driver has a hands free device. After a year and a half, distracted driving due to cell phone use is still a significant problem in Oregon. Nationwide it is estimated that 20% of the nation's 5,500 crash fatalities in 2009 were linked to cell phone use on the part of at least one driver involved.
This week Portland mayor Sam Adams announced his intention to get more serious about the problem. As part of the City's Street Smart campaign, Portland police will begin targeting distracted driving with the intent to send the message that "using a cell phone behind the wheel turns your car into a loaded weapon" according to Adams. Bicyclists who run red lights downtown and jaywalkers will also receive greater scrutiny and citations as part of the summer safety campaign.
The fine for violating Oregon's Hands Free law is $142. According to experts campaigns like Portland's Street Smarts combined with public warnings are effective. The warnings educate the public, but public awareness isn't enough without the consequences. The threat of a citation has to be real to motivate drivers to change their habits.
Until recently a loophole in Oregon's Hands Free law had made enforcement of the law difficult if not impossible. The Oregon legislature in 2009 originally included an exception to the cell phone prohibition by allowing anyone to talk on their cell phone while driving if they were using a cell phone in the "scope of employment." This loophole proved problematic and generally encouraged motorists to ignore the law. Moreover, police weren't motivated in Oregon to stop motorists on cell phones because in most cases a motorist would simply argue that the call was work related. Law enforcement understandably became frustrated when judges began dismissing cases based on the driver's testimony that the call in question was work related.
The Oregon legislature recently amended the law to eliminate the "scope of employment" loophole so that the new law allows only a limited class of drivers to use cell phones while driving, like police and emergency responders. However, those amendments do not take effect until January 1, 2012.
According to the Governor's Highway Safety Association, only 9 states as well as DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban the use of talking on hand held cell phones while driving. However, 34 states ban texting on hand held devices while driving. Those numbers are changing as well. More and more states currently have pending legislation to make cell phone distracted driving a primary offense. Many studies nationwide have indicated that people who use cell phones while driving are four times as likely to cause an accident as others on the road. These odds are identical to getting behind the wheel while legally intoxicated.
If these odds weren't enough, a Harvard study conducted in 2003 found that distractions caused by cell phones alone resulted in an average of 2,600 traffic deaths in the U.S. per year, and 330,000 additional wrecks causing in moderate to severe injuries. That number has undoubtedly increased since 2003.
If you are injured in a car accident, motorcycle accident or any kind of road way collision it's important to investigate whether the other driver was driving distracted by illegally using a hand held phone or device. Knowing this could strengthen your position in negotiating a settlement. A Portland personal injury attorney at Angel Law, P.C. may be able to help you with regard to this and other issues related to accident resolution.