Oregon’s new distracted driving law – increased penalties

Posted by William K. Thayer | Dec 04, 2017 | 0 Comments

We posted before about Washington's new law regarding cell phone use in the car. Now, Oregon has toughened its stance on this risky behavior as well.

The Oregon legislature passed House Bill 2597 broadening and clarifying what constitutes “distracted driving”, imposing increased penalties, and making a third distracted driving offense a crime subject to jail time.

The new law went into effect on October 1, 2017, creating essentially a “hands off” policy when it comes to cell phone use while on the road – it is now illegal to hold or touch your cell phone for any reason, including listening to music or using apps for navigation. While hands-free cell phone use is still permitted, that is only true if the use requires just a single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the phone or app.

Cell phones in a dashboard mount are considered hands-free and their use acceptable so long as they require only one touch. In contrast, making a quick call or answering a text at a red light is illegal – you must be safely parked before a cell phone can be used.

First violations carry a $260 fine, although if the first violation involves an accident, the fine is $435. With repeat offenses, the penalties get stiffer, and a conviction for a third offense can result in six months in jail or up to a $2,500 fine.

Drivers younger than age 18 cannot use any device while driving, even if it is hands-free.

I have heard some griping about these changes to the distracted driving laws in both Washington and Oregon. As an attorney who handles a lot of car wreck cases, however, I see the imposition of tougher penalties for distracted driving as a good thing. I can't tell you how many cases I have seen where our clients were hurt and had their lives disrupted because some other driver thought it necessary to use their cell phone when they should have been concentrating on their driving. This is a big deal. Like drunk driving, we know now that it is really dangerous to be distracted by looking at a phone when your eyes need to be scouring the ever-changing road conditions that confront the driver of any vehicle operating in traffic. The task of driving, simply put – albeit a commonplace daily activity that we tend to take for granted – is in fact a life and death matter that requires one's full and undivided attention.

So let's get the word out that the law has changed, such that now there is “zero tolerance” for use of cell phones when we are behind the wheel. If you read this blog, please spread the word, tell all your friends that from now on, when driving in the states of Washington or Oregon, or anyplace for that matter, they need to put their cell phones away – tuck them into the glove compartment or the trunk – before they put the car in drive.

We will all be a lot happier and safer if we do so. And as a bonus, we won't have to pay a stiff fine or go to jail, have our auto insurance premiums increased for three years, or be humiliated by the stigma of having to go to traffic court trying to defend ourselves from a penalty that could easily have been avoided.

About the Author

William K. Thayer

Bill Thayer is one of the founding partners of the Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards law firm. Bill is licensed in both Oregon and Washington, and actively practiced law from 1980 to 2021. He is now "of counsel" with Schauermann Thayer and serves as an arbitrator when appointed by the courts or litigants. During his more than 40 years of active law practice, Bill advised and represented clients in personal injury and wrongful death claims and litigation, including automobile collision, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian injury and death cases, dog bite cases, construction site injury claims, and a myriad of other types of injury and death claims. While many claims were settled through negotiation or mediation, Mr. Thayer litigated, arbitrated and/or tried to verdict many cases for his clients. He continues to occasionally be appointed by courts and other lawyers to serve as an arbitrator of tort claims. Bill enjoys writing as one of his varied recreational interests when he is not working.


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