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Oregon bike/ped committee urges state to ban cell phones while driving and bicycling

Posted by on April 17th, 2009 at 9:50 am

“We as a society need to address and reinforce that driving and bicycling requires full concentration on the road, unfettered awareness of roadway conditions and instant attention to non-motorized roadway users.”
–Jerry Norquist, in a letter to ODOT

The Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (OBPAC) has sent a formal letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC, a Governor-appointed body that advises the Oregon Department of Transportation) urging them to step up their efforts to educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving and to support a ban on the use of cell phones while driving and bicycling.

In the letter, dated March 16 and signed by committee Chair Jerry Norquist, the OBPAC “urges” the ODOT to support the agenda of the National Safety Council, a group calling for governors and legislators in all 50 states to ban cell phone use while driving. The OBPAC also wants ODOT to add information about the dangers of distracted driving to the DMV manual for both commercial and non-commercial road users.

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Oregon currently has no law on the books regarding the use of cell phones while driving. In the 2007 legislative session, several different bills were proposed, but none of them moved very far. On Monday, the House Transportation Committee will hear House Bill 2377, which prohibits use of a “mobile communications device” during the operation of a motor vehicle.

Rep. Tomei

The bill, sponsored by Representative Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie), would make it illegal to text message or talk on a cell phone, but makes an exception for hands-free devices (as well as people operating farm equipment and emergency vehicles). The bill also makes the infraction only a secondary offense, meaning that a police officer could enforce the law only after a motor vehicle operator was pulled over for some other offense.* (*I regret this error. I read the bill wrong. Tomei’s bill does make it a primary offense.)

Here is an excerpt from the bike/ped committee’s letter:

national bike summit 08-2.jpg

Jerry Norquist is Chair of
the Oregon Bike/Ped
Advisory Committee.
(Photo © J. Maus)

We as a society need to address and reinforce that driving requires full concentration on the road, unfettered awareness of roadway conditions and instant attention to non-motorized roadway users. Heightened attention is particularly important in adverse weather and reduced lighting conditions, common on Oregon’s roadways. Oregon’s drivers need to take responsibility for their driving behavior and the safety of all roadway users…

…We recognize that this will not be a magic end to all distractions on the roadways, but we need to address this issue now.

Along with their letter to ODOT, the bike/ped committee included a fact sheet about cell phone use while driving that was prepared by the National Safety Council. Here are a few of those facts:

  • Drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a crash while using a cell phone. (1997 New England Journal of Medicine examination of hospital records and 2005 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study linking crashes to cell phone records).
  • There is no difference in the cognitive distraction between hand-held and hands-free devices. (Simulator studies at the U. of Utah support this finding.)
  • Cell phone use contributes to an estimated 6 percent of all crashes, which equates to 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year. (Harvard Center of Risk Analysis).
  • 80 percent of crashes are related to driver inattention. There are certain activities that may be more dangerous than talking on a cell phone. However, cell phone use occurs more frequently and for longer durations than other, riskier behaviors. Thus, the #1 source of driver inattention is cell phones. (Virginia Tech 100-car study for NHTSA)

Oregon is way behind in passing legislation that helps prevent distracted driving. Tomei’s bill lacks the real teeth needed to make an impact, but it’s a start*. If you care about this issue, consider contacting your representative and making your opinion known.

Legislation like this is also another great reason to join Jerry Norquist and many others at the Oregon Bike Summit next week (4/21 – 4/22).

(*4/23 update: I was mistaken in my reading of Tomei’s bill and I am working on a follow-up story. It has more “teeth” than I originally reported. Sorry for any confusion.)

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Paul Tay
Guest

New rule: Require cell operators to drop calls if the mobile device is moving faster than 10 mph.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

that’s awesome Paul. does anyone know if the technology exists to do that? i know iPhones have an accelerometer in them.

given the facts and research supporting the dangers of cell phones while driving, i’m amazed at how timid elected leaders are in pushing for strong laws against it…

but i also realize why they’re timid. it’s sad though.

we need a complete ban. I know they’re helpful for doing business while driving, but you can’t do business when you’re dead or when you’re distraught from having seriously injured or killed someone.

I pull over on my bike when using my cell phone.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

#1 the problem with your suggestion is there really is no safety reason why a passenger on a bus should be prevented from sending a text message.

What the law really needs to do is ban the dangerous behavior, which is the act of using a cell phone while driving with or without a hands free device, and it needs to do it as a primary offense.

If it is a secondary offense then an officer could witness someone texting while driving 65mph down the freeway but as long as they were keeping the car between the lines no ticket…

I’d at least like to see a ban on all cell phone use within city limits while driving. Hands free may be distracting while on the freeway too, but honestly the level of attention needed to safely drive down a freeway is far lower, and the chance of hitting a pedestrian is minute.

Bjorn

DJ Hurricane
Guest
DJ Hurricane

This is weak. As usual, the corporate cell phone lobby uses its influence with the “peoples'” representatives to water down public safety to protect private profit.

But rest assured, when this bill does pass I’m going to spend all my time on the car blogs whining about how all the drivers are dangerous maniac scofflaws because some of them violate this law while driving.

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

Imagine reading this in the Oregonian, “Driver was talking on a cell phone”.

Somewhat akin to, “Cyclist was not wearing a helmet”.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

With hand-held phones, there is not only the “cognitive distraction” that generally reduces awareness of what is going on out on the road, but also the reduced physical ability to turn one’s head (useful for checking bike lanes before right turns) and to react to sudden changes that require emergency steering to dodge kids/toys/dogs/other inattentive drivers/cyclists/peds/etc. that may dart out into your path.

Banning hand-held devices would be almost half of what we need to eliminate cell phone-related impairment…

Paul Tay
Guest

Bjorn, there’s a way for mobile devices to tell the diff between a bus passenger and a driver in actual physical control.

Besides, it might not be a safety reason, but, dropping calls on bus passenger might prevent ME from cracking some chatty Cathy’s HEAD against the side of the bus.

Mobile operators should be held accountable for some cute blonde killing someone while chatting incessantly into the DAMN phone.

In the meantime, do your part. Next time you roll up to said chatty Cathy, stick tongue out, and make the appropriate hang-up gestures. DIY phone Nazi!

matt picio
Guest

Jonathan (#2) – the technology exists, though I don’t know if it’s being used in that fashion yet. Not all carriers have all of the pieces to make it work. Most phones sold now have 2-way GPS, meaning the network can query your phone and determine its location. By default, it’s turned off, but 911 calls can turn the feature on to determine the location of the phone. By querying the phone sequentially, the system can calculate the speed and direction of travel of the mobile unit.

A law to mandate its use and drop calls over 10mph would be awesome.

And for those of you who don’t want to be tracked by your cellphone use, there are 2 easy solutions: 1 – leave it at home. 2 – turn it off.

Even without GPS features, most cell networks can still determine position of a mobile unit within a couple hundred feet or less.

Allison
Guest
Allison

We’ll see if it’s different this year but I think the reason previous bills failed is that most legislators themselves drive long distances to work and use their cell phones while driving… as do their staffs. And what I heard people saying privately was, “Well, I drive just fine on a cell phone…”

Should truck drivers not be able to use CB? I imagine they get really lonely on their long distance drives.

Should there be an exception for contacting emergency services? One of the testimonies that reached my old boss, at least was the story of pursuing a car involved in a hit and run…a third party chased the guy down to find out where he went and called the police. Without being able to contact the police en route, he’d have lost the guy and chasing him without calling would have resulted in vigilantism or just letting the assailant get away.

fredlf
Guest
fredlf

Like most folk, I use eye-contact to communicate with drivers, both on my bike and in the car. Eye-contact helps keep me safe. I’ve found it much, much more difficult to make eye-contact with someone yapping on their phone.

Kathy
Guest
Kathy

There are alot of motorists, myself included, who would be just fine with this passing. I am primarily a ped and a motorist, and it drives me nuts when I see someone talking on their phone while they are “Driving”.

Some thoughts:

1) Exceptions should be made for emergency calls. I had to call 911 and report a woman screaming and trying to jump out the passenger door, and I followed them while on the phone with the operator. I was a passenger in this case, but I would have done the same thing when I was driving because it appeared her life was seriously in danger.

2) I have also been seeing alot of cyclists on the phone while sharing the road. This should also be banned.

AHR
Guest
AHR

Yes, drivers should have to use hands free devices, but please, please, please, have cyclists do the same, or pull over. I have seen many who do pull over (thanks Jonathan), but for everyone I see pull over, I see two riding and talking. Worst offender I’ve seen: a woman riding with a trail-a-bike AND a burley (kids in tow), riding along the crowded esplanade while talking on a cell phone.

Dana
Guest
Dana

#1, #2, #8

Having your cell phone turn off if you are going more than 10 mph is not a good idea, because I don’t want my cell phone turned off if I am not operating a vehicle, but a passenger:

– A passenger in a car,
– taking a bus,
– riding in the back of a pedi cab,
– taking the max,
– sitting on a boat,
– taking the train
– being kidnapped in the back of someone’s trunk,
– etc.

They just need to make it a primary offense with a hefty fine. That will scare people from doing it.

Also, cell phone companies are all for the car cell phone ban… as long as hands free devices are allowed so they can sell more products.

Suburban Cyclist
Guest
Suburban Cyclist

Most of you are just being silly. What’s next? Outlaw talking or listening to the radio while driving? How about we outlaw kids in the car? How much closer to communism do we get and it still be ok?

These laws need to be enacted with a sense of balance. With today’s available technologies, hands-free devices offer the best available balance at this time. Therefore, drivers should only be allowed to use hands-free devices for cellular communication. Obviously, non-drivers should be excluded, but the law should be a “primary offense”.

The core problem is, there just aren’t enough bike paths. But unless oil runs dry tomorrow, I don’t think this is going to be solved anytime soon.

andy
Guest
andy

Why just cell phones? A truck driver caused a crash just a week or two ago when he was distracted by his breakfast burrito.

martin
Guest
martin

Nanny state. Bill most likely sponsored by Verizon and the like to sell more phone accessories.

lothar
Guest
lothar

I think I would go one further and ban driving with a dog in your lap as well. How effectively can you steer away from a bad situation with a yapping bag of crap in your lap trying to smell dog butt outside the driver window?

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

finally….jesus….someone who actually had a good idea for a law actually beneficial to the safety of cyclists….

long time overdue.

martin..who cares who sponsors it, your paranoid butt will be safer out there if it passes…

old&slow
Guest
old&slow

I see a lot of cyclists talking on phones while riding. I wouldn’t ban it but it’s hard to criticize motorists for doing what I see cyclists doing all the time.

Paul Tay
Guest

#13, Dana, there are ways mobile devices can diff between a passenger and driver.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Making it a secondary offense is just a passive aggressive way of saying they have no teeth or plans to enforce it.

I’ve been down to California three times after January (and the implementation of the same sort of bill that requires hands free) and I have barely seen anyone using a hands free phone while driving. Most still have their phones held up to their ears.

andy
Guest
andy

old&slow (#18), I agree. Just like all those cyclists I see playing with their lap dogs, reading, eating sloppy cheeseburgers with both hands, applying eyeliner in their rearview mirrors…

Dana
Guest
Dana

#19, Paul Tay, how?

She
Guest
She

So driving on the highway while it may require “less concentration” and there are less likely to be things to collide with – THE CAR IS MOVING MUCH FASTER – and is more likely to be lethal in the case of an accident.

We need some kind of law and I am not in favor of allowing hands free, there is NO evidence to show the concentration on driving is any better (you just have you hands free) but what good are you hands if you are distracted and do not see the challenge approaching you?

By the way, if you are a cyclist, you should tell all your loved ones that if you are EVER in an accident fatal or not, they need to subpeona cell phone records. If we can show more and more that drivers causing accidents are on cell phones then the laws may catch up.

For that matter if you are ever in a motor vehicle accident what-so-ever (no matter what vehicle you are operating or if walking) get the other driver’s cell phone records.

I used to work for a company that put pressure and me and other employees to talk while driving and I quit! It was dangerous and I will not talk and drive.

peejay
Guest
peejay

old&slow:

Seriously? Your argument is that even though action X is shown to be dangerous, you can’t stop group A from doing it because group B does it, too? Because stopping half (more like 95%) of activity X couldn’t possibly improve safety, if you can’t stop the other half (more like 5%)?

Wouldn’t the logical approach be to ban both A and B from doing X?

sabernar
Guest
sabernar

How about making it illegal for a cyclist to talk on the phone while riding? I think that needs to be a law, too.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

sabernar…I agree. I watched some dufus last night ride through a 4-way intersection, hands off the bars / nowhere near the brake levers (busy holding a cell phone and talking), witout even bothering to look for cross traffic…

I assume there will be a fund raiser for him in the near future..

Argentius
Guest

Conceptually, no one should be distracted by mobile devices while driving.

But, banning handheld units both creates unnecessary regulation, and legitimizes using hands-free devices, which studies show are just as dangerous as handheld phones.

Finally, “secondary violations” generate moderate compliance and enforcement — see the rollout of seatbelt laws.

If we are going to legislate this, let’s do the whole thing.

fredlf
Guest
fredlf

Walking down MLK today, near Ainsworth, I saw the following:

an ambulance comes down the road, lights, siren and horn all going. A woman stops her car smack in the left lane. The ambulance stops behind it, horn blaring. Eventually, the woman moves to the right lane and stops again. The ambulance passes. The woman stays stopped in the right lane. Cars pile up behind. People start honking. Eventually she gets moving again, though the line of stopped cars is now clogging the Ainsworth intersection.

You guessed it: talking on her cell the whole time.

Bring on the “nanny state,” please. And hurry.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

I agree that this is a really milktoast bill. The same issue was watered down in NY for car alarms. We need this to be a primary offense and at the very least ensure hands free devices. During the snowstorm I even saw a City of Portland truck driving without chains and the guy was on the phone. I’m certain that emergency calls would be excepted on any bill. Let’s push to get some teeth in to this legislation.
And Paul, I agree with you, but don’t know how a phone can distinguish a bus driver or passenger from a driver

Miss Ena
Guest
Miss Ena

I’m personally against this being passed.
Because I don’t think it’s just cell phones that distract people while driving.

I rear-ended someone in 2005. I had looked away for just a second and there I was with a VW on me. It had nothing to do with a cell phone. Also, any other close calls were because of the radio or my mood.

I don’t think it’s fair to blame cell phones. What about eating in your car? That takes your mind and hands off the road. What about women who put on make up or people who look at a map?

It’s not the cell phone that is to blame. It’s the person who lets themselves get distracted.

Miss Ena
Guest
Miss Ena

Good Lord, People!!

How many laws do you want? A few years ago I had a bike accident and was left with a terrible brain injury, but had nobody to drive me to appointments.

So, I had to drive with a concussion. What about mental illness? Should mentally ill people not be allowed to drive?

Did you know depression is considered a mental illness? 1 in 5 people have a mental illness…should we take their licenses away?

If you continue to pass law after law, at some point I wont be able to have a bowel movement past 4pm on Sundays.

old&slow
Guest
old&slow

peejay, Bingo! yes I am saying that if you want to pass a law against one group, you do it for all. Talking on a cell phone while driving or riding a bike is equally stupid. That being said, I am not sure I would pass a law at all.

Q`ztal
Guest
Q`ztal

#31, Miss Ena:
So, seriously, we need all the current laws to just be enforced. Especially in Portland where the “I can’t live without my car” excuse rests on a shaky foundation of termite riddled wood posts.
I have nothing against a cell ban while driving. Basically though most of these laws come down to “Driving While Stupid”. We can codify every possible instance of DWS, which needs updating constantly, or we can trust every traffic cop is honest, honorable and not just out for his vindictive thrills when he writes a ticket for DWS.
It has been said that getting a driver’s license in the USA is our rite of passage.
The problem is everyone can get one.

Not everyone has the aptitude to pay attention everything at once.
Not everyone has the aptitude to drive a tractor trailer.
Not everyone has the aptitude to be a race car driver.
If a licensed driver demonstrates, through their inattentiveness or deeds, that they are a threat to public safety, their license should be revoked until they can prove they are no longer a threat to public safety.

jim
Guest
jim

The real problem is when you are talking on your cell phone and eating a dognut at the same time and you drop the dognut on the floor when you are changing the radio station, or drop your cigarette in your lap…

are
Guest
are

martin 16: the phrase “nanny state” refers to laws that protect idiots from themselves, for example, requiring that a box of nails be labeled “for topical use only.” a law protecting me from some other idiot does not fall within the definition. a law that would take your license away permanently for doing something stupid that endangers me would still not be a “nanny state” law. most people, apparently including yourself, are not actually capable of operating large, heavy equipment safely, but the “nanny state” nonetheless hands out these licenses like they were candy. would it be okay to have a law forbidding you to have a wide screen television on the dashboard?

I could go on and on.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

*ding*
The driver’s license test needs to include a serious neurological type test of attention and short term memory.
The only thing that comes to mind right now is that cop test where you look a picture of a holdup at a convenience store for 30 seconds. Then you have to answer questions without looking.

Guess I fail the memory component.

Kt
Guest
Kt

#21, right on.

Making this a secondary offense=no teeth whatsoever.

Washington passed this same law last year– how’s that going, Washington? I’ll tell you: it doesn’t work. I see a lot of people driving the 5 with the cell glued to their ears. Or their thumbs, as texting was not included in their version.

If OR banned texting while driving– that would be a winner.

If OR banned use of a cell phone while piloting a vehicle– i.e. driving a car or riding a bike– that would be a better winner.

Making it a primary offense: genius.

Kt
Guest
Kt

Oh yeah, some exceptions:

In an emergency situation. That’s it. If you have to call 911, that’s an emergency (but not if you’re calling because Taco Bell won’t serve you in their drive-thru while you’re on your bike).

daalan
Guest
daalan

Bravo! Cell phone use, while driving and even while riding a bike, should be prohibited.
I saw a person talking on cell phone AND applying lipstick while driving. How safe is that?

chelsea
Guest
chelsea

Call it a nanny state if you want, but if people are too stupid to think for themselves let the law do it for them. I just almost got hit in a crosswalk by a woman talking on a phone, whose sudden stop caused her to get hit head on by another car.

Rob
Guest
Rob

From the article:

“Drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be in a crash while using a cell phone.”

Uh, duh?

Actually, that estimate sames low. I mean, people who don’t use cell phones while driving couldn’t “be in a crash while using a cell phone.”

What does this really mean? It seems like a useless (and probably incorrect) statistic to me.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Big SUV pulled onto the street I was riding on while looking down at phone, possibly texting. She merged right in front of me, kept driving, and probably never saw me as she sped then merged onto another road. you can’t legislate intelligence, but it won’t hurt to try to make dangerous stupidity a crime.

Kt
Guest
Kt

Thanks for the update, JMaus.

Glad to see that it’s a primary offense! 🙂 Now, can they add texting to this bill??

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

As Kt mentions above, I have corrected this story.

I mistakenly reported that Tomei’s bill was making it a secondary offense. I have corrected the story above and I am just about to publish another update on the front page.

ALSO, Tomei’s bill does include texting. Sorry if I wasn’t clear… the bill prohibits “mobile communications device” which includes text messaging.

stay tuned to front page for update.

martin
Guest
martin

are #36: I’m a little disappointed that you assume I’m not able to operate heavy equipment in a safe manner based solely on my post above. I feel that belittling people is not a good way to enhance your argument.
Cell phone use is just a subset in the bigger problem of driving while distracted, and I pointed out that many times communications companies may or may not be behind these new laws (although I have no idea if that’s the case in this instance). The truth is that if a traffic officer feels that a driver is being careless they will get a ticket–be it for a cell phone, putting on makeup, entering coordinates into a GPS, reading a book, eating a gyro, and whatever else you can think of.
I have bluetooth, so i don’t use a cell phone while driving. But I’ll admit that i’ve answered the phone while on my bike many times.

Mike
Guest
Mike

These are stupid laws! Maybe for under 18 it’s OK, but not for adult population. There will be more dangerous situations on the road if everybody will have to suddenly stop to answer the phone! And if stopping right away is not really possible (in some situations) then frustrations and stress will grow rapidly due to a missed important call or people will try to chit and still answer the phone, and that will add to a guilty conscience. And if you are sitting in traffic and talking on the phone – would that be OK? Do you have to stop talking immediately when red light changed to green, sometimes it realistically impossible! If people are careless, they will not be fixed up by laws, it’s their state of mind. They are careless everywhere! But for careful people there is no problem to answer the phone while driving. Or maybe we start giving fines for eating the burger while driving? That creates obstruction for driving – too big burger! Drinking something and getting choked! There are a lot of situations that can create a lot of job for lawmakers. Instead, use television, radio, newspapers, and other things – to remind people to be careful while driving.