What Are Oregon’s Distracted Driving Laws?

Distracted driving of any kind is incredibly dangerous, and many states are cracking down on various forms of distracted driving, especially cell phone use behind the wheel. All Oregon drivers need to know their responsibilities and which distracting behaviors may lead to accidents and legal penalties. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), there were more than 10,000 crashes and 70 fatalities involving distracted driving in Oregon between 2012 and 2016. There have been more than 87,000 distracted driving-related criminal convictions during those years as well.

Oregon Laws for Distracted Driving

The most recent update to the distracted driving law in Oregon went into effect on October 1, 2017 and includes several specific provisions for distracted driving offenses.

  • A first offense that does not lead to an accident still qualifies as a Class B violation, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
  • A second offense that does not cause an accident or a first offense that does cause an accident is a Class A violation, punishable by fines up to $2,000.
  • A third offense within ten years is a Class B misdemeanor carrying a penalty of fines up to $2,500 and up to six months in jail.

Some possible exceptions to these laws may offer alternative punishments for first-time offenders. The most recent law changes allow judges to waive or suspend the fines for these offenses if the offender completes a distracted driving avoidance class and provides proof of completion to the court within four months of sentencing. However, this remedy only suspends the fine; it does not expunge the offense from the driver’s record.

Other exceptions to the ban on cell phone use behind the wheel exist as well.

  • A driver may use a cell phone while safely parked in a vehicle, but not while stopped at a stop sign or red light.
  • Drivers over the age of 18 may use hands-free devices to use cell phones while driving.
  • Drivers may use a single touch or swipe on the screen of a device to deactivate it or hang up on an incoming call while driving.
  • Drivers may use cell phones to call in emergencies if no one else is available to do so.
  • Bus drivers, tow truck drivers, and other CDL holders may operate in-vehicle radios as necessary as long as they follow the federal rules for doing so behind the wheel.
  • Bus drivers and utility truck drivers may use two-way radios when necessary during the execution of job-related duties.
  • Drivers over the age of 18 may use HAM radios when necessary.

Why Is Cell Phone Use So Dangerous Behind the Wheel?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,450 people died in 2016 alone from distracted driving. Cell phone use is particularly dangerous because it encompasses all three main types of distractions behind the wheel: cognitive, manual, and visual. A driver must avert his or her gaze away from the road to read and write messages, use at least one hand to operate the phone, and he or she is not paying attention to driving when having a text conversation. Looking at a phone for even a few seconds can equate to pretty much the same thing as driving blind for several hundred feet or more at moderate speeds.

During daylight hours, the NHTSA estimates that more than 400,000 drivers are using their cell phones behind the wheel at any given time. The new laws in Oregon and other states cracking down on distracted driving aim to reduce this number and the number of accidents resulting from distractions behind the wheel. When a distracted driver causes an accident in Oregon, any victims of the crash need to know their rights and options for legal recourse, and a personal injury attorney is a fantastic resource in this capacity.