Oregon House OKs cell phone ban for young drivers

| 6/1/2007

A slew of bills have been offered this year in the Oregon Legislature that would enable law enforcement to go after cell phone use or other activities that distract drivers.

While an effort to focus attention on the state’s youngest drivers has made it halfway through the statehouse, several other efforts to restrict cell phone use by all drivers have died.

House lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill that would prohibit drivers under age 18 from using any cell phone, hand-held or “hands-free” while at the wheel. Teens could only get pulled over for violating the rule if they committed another traffic offense. Violators would face $260 fines.

Sponsored by Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, the bill – HB2872 – has been forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Among the bills that failed to gain passage is an effort that would have prohibited drivers from engaging in activities that include reading, writing, personal grooming or playing with pets while at the wheel. It also would have prohibited hand-held cell phone use while driving.

Sponsored by Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, the bill – SB521 – would have allowed for drivers to be fined $360 if they can’t manage other activities and drive unimpaired.

The effort was intended to address concerns from opponents of cell phone restrictions who say that talking on the devices is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving.

Four other measures focused solely on cell phone use.

The first bill – SB246 – would have forbidden drivers in the state from talking on cell phones, including phones with “hands-free” accessories.

Another failed bill – SB293 – also limited its focus to cell phone use while driving. But it would still have allowed drivers to use hands-free devices.

Violators of the cell phone rule would have faced fines up to $720 if they cause property damage or injury. Under SB246, any serious injuries that result could have landed offenders one year behind bars and more than $6,000 in fines.

A separate bill – HB2482 – also would have prohibited hand-held cell phone use while driving. Violators would have faced up to $90 fines.

Each bill sought to exempt emergency calls.

At least a dozen states already ban or restrict young drivers from using cell phones. Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting hand-held cell phone use for all drivers. In 2008, California and Washington are slated to implement their own rule. No state prohibits hands-free usage for all drivers.

– Keith Goble, state legislative editor