Beginning October first, Oregonians can expect police to pay closer attention to their habits behind the wheel. On that day, the state’s new, fortified distracted driving law will have taken effect. The new law makes it easier for distracted drivers to get pulled over by police, who can now issue citations to anyone holding any electronic device. The new law seeks to address gaping loopholes in the old law, which let people use their digital devices for everything except talking and texting. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce instances of auto accidents caused by distracted driving.

Distracted Driving More Dangerous than DUII?

While tough DUI laws across all 50 states have caused the DUI accident and fatality rates to go down, weak or no laws targeting distracted driving have allowed the rate of distracted driving accidents and fatalities to climb. As technology becomes ever more enthralling and commutes ever more drudging, our inclination to use technology as a distraction strengthens. As a result, more people than ever are driving distractedly by using technology at times that make them a hazard to be on the road.

Distracted driving often manifests in the form of texting while driving, which some claim is as or more dangerous than drunk driving. From 2002 to 2014, drunk driving fatalities dropped by 25%. This decline can be attributed to an increase in awareness of the dangers of drunk driving as well as tough penalties for DUI. In the same time frame, however, fatalities caused by distracted driving accidents shot up from 2,600 deaths in 2002 to 3,331 in 2011.

How does Oregon’s New Law Protect Drivers?

Under Oregon’s old cell phone law, drivers could not communicate via cell phone. As it turned out, it was difficult for cops to know just when someone was texting or placing a call when they saw a driver holding a phone.

At one point, an officer stopped a woman who was using her phone behind the wheel. He smelled alcohol and suspected she was under the influence. He then conducted field sobriety tests and arrested her for DUII. An Oregon Court of Appeals judge ruled that since the officer didn’t see the woman physically communicating on her phone, he did not have probable cause to make the stop. Thus, all the evidence obtained from the stop was suppressed. This made it difficult for police to enforce the law at all.

Now, anyone can be pulled over for any reason if they have a device in their hands, whether it’s a phone, tablet, iPod, GPS, or anything else that is taking attention away from the road.

What Drivers Need to Know

The new law is much more strict about what activity can take place behind the wheel. Any handheld device is prohibited, and there are now much harsher penalties for anyone caught breaking the law, including higher fines that escalate for repeat offenders.

In 2009, the law only required drivers to use a hands-free device when placing calls and banned texting outright. Today, drivers are prohibited from using any function that requires them to hold the phone. Drivers are limited to a single touch or swipe when activating or deactivating certain functions.

Can Drivers Use Navigation or Music Apps?

The new law specifically targets more activities than the old law did. In addition to banning communication, drivers may not use any kind of entertainment or navigation systems unless they are able to use these systems while keeping both hands on the wheel.

The device you are using for GPS functions can be touched to activate a preprogrammed route or to end navigation prompts as long as the device is being supported by a hands-free tool and not in your hand. If you need to type out an address to get around, you will need to pull over or park.

Do I Have to Turn Off My Car to Use My Phone?

Your car doesn’t need to be turned off but you must be parked safely at the side of the road or in a parking spot to use the full scope of features on your device. You cannot hold the phone to text, use GPS, or pick a new song at a red light or stop sign.

Can I Call 911 in an Emergency?

If no one else is in the vehicle with you, you may use your cell phone to request emergency assistance.

Penalties for Breaking the Law

One of the most significant changes are the penalties associated with breaking the cell phone law. Under the old law, all offenders would face a fine of $160, whether it was their first or fourth time getting caught.

As of October first, a first time offender can face a fine of $260, which will only get higher the more times a driver is caught. A second offense, or a first offense that causes an accident, will lead to a fine of $435. A third violation within 10 years will lead to misdemeanor charges and a fine of up to $2,500.

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