New legislation expected to be introduced as the legislative session in February would penalize distracted drivers similarly to drunk drivers.
The distracted driver bill proposes that drivers found using a mobile device while driving could face up to a year in prison. The bill differentiates distracted driving caused by using mobile devices from other types of distracted driving like eating, drinking and smoking.
Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney is leading the effort. According to Courtney, a distracted driver crash occurs every 2.5 hours and a person is injured in a distracted driving crash every three hours.
If the bill would become law, drivers who text, use social media or talk on the phone could face thousands of dollars in fines and even jail time.
A first time offense would carry a maximum of up to one year in prison, a $6,250 fine or both. A repeat offender would face stiffer fines. A second-time offender would face $1,500 and a third-time offender up to $2,000. A driver stopped three or more times in a 10-year period could face a felony, up to five years in prison and a $125,000 fine.
Between 2005 and 2012, drunk driving fatalities decreased by 28 percent, but distracted driving fatalities increased by the same amount.
The current law makes it illegal only to communicate using a mobile device while driving, but the bill could change that to include text messaging, talking, navigation, accessing the internet or reading emails.
In addition to the new measures, the proposed law would wipe out current exceptions for cell phone use while driving. It would only allow for use if calling for emergency medical assistance, operating an ambulance or emergency vehicle or using a hands-free accessory.
The proposal would modify Oregon’s existing cell phone law (ORS 811.507)
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