Nationwide, distracted drivers account for one in ten traffic fatalities and 18 percent of traffic injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Because one life lost is one too many, neighboring Washington and Oregon states have recently expanded their distracted driving laws banning cellphone use.
Washington Adds Any Mobile Electronic Device to its Distracted Driving Law
Beginning July 23, 2017, those driving in Washington who are caught reading, writing, or viewing messages, pictures and data on any handheld electronic device, even while stopped at a red light, stop sign, or in stop-and-go traffic can be ticketed.
A decade ago, Washington was the first state with a texting ban. Following a 30 percent increase in distracted driving fatalities in the state between 2014 and 2015, the Washington State House in May approved expanding its “Driving under the Influence of Electronics” law with a 46-13 vote, which bans holding a cellphone or other electronic device while driving or stopped in traffic. After a 21-8 vote of approval in the Senate, the bill returned to the House for concurrence with Senate amendments.
Before, drivers in Washington could only be ticketed for texting and holding a phone to their ear. Now use of any mobile electronic device while driving, except to call 911 or emergency services, is considered a primary offense, subject to a fine of $136 for the first offense and $234 for the second. The violation will then be reported to the driver’s insurance company and will appear on the driver’s record. During the first several months, Washington State Highway Patrol will issue only warnings to educate motorists.
Eating, smoking and grooming, or anything that is not driving will also be a secondary offense (“Driving dangerously distracted”), subject to an extra fine of $99. Drivers engaged in those distracting behaviors will not be stopped unless, at the time, they were committing a separate primary offense, such as speeding or failing to signal.
If you think the law is too strict, think about this: texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road for 5 seconds, enough time to drive the entire length of a football field at 55 miles per hour while blind-folded.
Oregon’s Driving under the Influence of Electronics Law to Be Enacted in October
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) sees traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving as an epidemic. According to a report from ODOT’s Distracted Driving Task Force, in Oregon a crash caused by distracted driving occurs approximately every three hours. Between 2011 and 2015, distracted drivers caused 8,951 crashes in Oregon that resulted in 54 deaths, with fourteen of those deaths related to the use of a cellphone.
With those grim statistics in mind, in May 2017 the Oregon legislature passed 46-13 “Driving under the Influence of Electronics “ law House bill 2597, imposing a fine of up to $2000 for using a “mobile electronic device” while driving. Fines for a first offense could total $1000, but could be erased if drivers take a state-approved distracted driving avoidance class at their own expense. Following offenses, or a first offense that causes a traffic collision, would result in higher fines that could not be waived. In June 2017, the Senate passed the bill with a 21-8 vote, and sent it back to the House for concurrence with revisions, to be enacted on October 1.
Oregon’s distracted driving laws have undergone several revisions over the years. In 2015, the state’s hands-free law only prohibited sending or receiving “voice or text communication,” not touching or reading an electronic device while driving, with a fine of only $500. House Bill 2597 expands on the existing law, prohibiting drivers from touching any electronic mobile device while driving. This includes talking, texting, watching movies, sending emails, using social media or even just holding your cellphone in your hand while driving. Only hands-free cell phone use is permitted.
In Oregon, with the new law, if you are caught once you can take a distracted-driving course to get the citation taken off your record, but if you are caught twice, you can face a $2000 fine. Caught three times, you could face a fine and jail time.
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