Oregon lawmakers approve cell-phone, texting while driving ban

| 7/10/2009

A bill on its way to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s desk for his signature addresses one of the pet peeves of professional drivers: focusing on anything other than the road.

The state’s House and Senate endorsed legislation that is intended to reduce a couple of driver distractions. The bill – HB2377 – would limit cell phone use and ban text messaging while driving.

Drivers of all ages would be prohibited from using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. Using mobile communication devices to read, write or send text messages also would be a no-no. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device would still be permitted for drivers 18 and older.

Oregon law now prohibits cell phone use for drivers under 18.

Of particular interest to truckers, CB radios would be exempted. Also, exceptions would be made for persons operating a vehicle within the scope of employment.

The bill would make violations a primary offense, meaning law enforcement could pull over drivers solely for using hand-held devices. Starting Jan. 1, 2010, offenders would face up to $90 fines.

“This is a commonsense safety issue. A ban on hand-held cell phones will reduce traffic accidents, fatalities, and protect Oregonians,” Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said in a written statement.

Efforts to curb the practice of using electronic wireless devices, such as a BlackBerry-type device, while driving have picked up steam across the country following the National Safety Council’s call for all states to ban drivers from all cell phone usage.

California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones. With the exception of New York, each of these states also prohibits text messaging.

In all, 14 states ban the practice of operating a motor vehicle while reading, typing or sending text messages. States to adopt bans this year include Colorado, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. A bill to do the same in Illinois is on the governor’s desk.

A recent poll on the Land Line site shows how truckers view the issue of driver distractions. Almost half, or 45 percent, of the respondents said that states should focus their efforts on banning hand-held phones while allowing drivers to continue to use hands-free devices. Following closely behind, 41 percent of voters said lawmakers should quit trying to legislate everything people do. A far smaller number of respondents – 11 percent – said no one should use their cell phones or send text messages while driving. Only about 2 percent said restrictions should be focused on the youngest drivers.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Oregon in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.