What you need to know about Oregon's new distracted driving cellphone law

Oregon's upcoming distracted driving cellphone law has many residents nervous.

Would navigation apps like GoogleMaps suddenly be illegal?

Would drivers be forced to revert to using those pesky, pre-smartphone era printed out directions?

Would they wind up with a ticket and $260 fine after listening to their favorite podcast or music station on their iPhone?

The new law, which takes effect Oct. 1, comes with steeper fines, stricter rules and even possible jail time for repeat offenders. 

Oregon cellphone, distracted driving law brings bigger fines, jail time

But, as Salem police Senior Officer Mitch Mason said, drivers won't have to say goodbye to their favorite apps — as long as they use them correctly. 

During his 22 years at the Salem Police Department and 18 years as a traffic patrol officer, Mason has seen cellphone use and distracted driving-related crashes drastically increase.

"Fatalities are just skyrocketing," he said. 

The Statesman Journal sat down with Mason to address some common concerns over the new law:

Can I use GoogleMaps or other navigation apps if I have a dashboard mount? What if the phone is in my console, cup holder or on the seat?

People can still use their usual navigation apps as long they follow a few guidelines, Mason said. 

Drivers will need to enter their destination address before they begin their trip. If they need to enter an address after they've begun driving, they'll need to pull over and legally park their car before keying in the address. 

Once you start driving, the only time you can touch your phone is a "single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the device," according to the new law.

Your phone can be mounted on the window or dashboard, on the console, in a cup holder or in your pocket — anywhere except in your hands. 

Are other GPS devices okay to use?

Yes, if you follow the same guidelines: Enter the address before driving, pull over to type a new address, don't hold the device and refrain from touching except for a single tap or swipe.

Previously, the law only mentioned "communication devices," which Oregon courts interpreted to mean only cellphones used for talking and texting. Now, the wording has been changed to include all electronic devices, including GPS devices, tablets and smartwatches. 

Can I listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks or sports streaming?

Nothing makes a trip pass quicker than your favorite songs, a juicy audiobook or an interesting podcast. One reader voiced her concern over not being able to listen to baseball game broadcasts over her phone during trips. Another worried about having access to his iPhone music library. 

Thankfully, drivers will not have to sit in silence or settle for the radio. Mason said travelers can listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks and streaming apps on their phones or devices as long as they keep their listening "hands-free."

The "single touch or swipe" rule might not apply to switching stations or clicking "thumbs down" on a Pandora song, he warned.

The wording of the law said the single tap is only allowed to activate or deactivate, so something shuffling through songs would be up to an officer's interpretation until there's an actual court ruling to go by.

"I probably wouldn't be "thumbs-downing" stuff," Mason said. 

Can you wear headphones, earbuds or a Bluetooth earpiece while driving?

Yes, all are acceptable as are any devices built into your vehicle, Mason said. 

Can I type in a phone number or address while I'm driving? What if I'm at a stoplight?

Nope, those are all off limits. Drivers will need to be legally parked in a parking spot or alongside the road before keying in a phone number or address. 

This rule will also apply to those cruising through parking lots. 

Being stopped at an intersection or light doesn't give you a free pass to grab your phone.

As a motorcycle patrol officer, Mason said he frequently pulls alongside people glued to their phones at stop lights and stop signs. 

"Obviously, if your eyes are down and looking at your tablet or your phone, your eyes aren't up looking at the traffic and what's happening out there," he said. "You never know what's going to happen."

Can I hold my phone to text and make calls?

This has been illegal for years and will continue to be, Mason said. Using voice text or speakerphones are okay as long as the driver isn't holding the phone. 

Can I scroll through Instagram or Facebook while driving?

A loophole in the previous law made this technically legal, but the new law took away the gaps and "gray areas," Mason said.

The new law allows officers to pull over drivers checking their social media accounts and reading posts. 

"We shouldn't be playing Angry Birds or going on Facebook while we're driving around," he said. 

Does this law include other distracted driving behaviors like eating or putting on makeup?

No, but you can still be ticketed if you drive carelessly or commit a traffic violation while eating, putting on makeup, shaving or drinking coffee while driving. 

What if I'm an Uber or Lyft driver? Can I tap my phone to accept a ride request?

If it's only a single tap or swipe, then it's okay. Anything more would require the driver to pull over and park, Mason said. 

How much are the fines for people ticketed under the new law?

Those convicted of a first-time distracted driving offense not contributing to a crash face a presumptive fine of $260, with a maximum fine of $1,000. Starting on Jan. 1, the court may suspend the fine for first-time offenders if the driver completes an approved distracted driving avoidance course within four months. 

Although the fine would be suspended, the violation would still remain on the offender's driving record.

A second-time offense or one involving a crash carries a presumptive fine of $435 and a maximum fine of $2,500.

Committing a third distracted driving offense in a 10-year span is considered a misdemeanor. The minimum fine is $2,000, but repeat offenders could face a $6,250 fine and up to one year in jail. 

For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at wmwoodwort@statesmanjournal.com, call 503-399-6884 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth

© 2017 KGW-TV


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