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Cell phone, texting ban out of committee, set for House vote next week

Posted by on April 23rd, 2009 at 11:55 am

“I bike and walk a lot…I’m especially careful when people are on a cell phone because their attention is obviously on someone else and not me.”
–State Rep. Carolyn Tomei, sponsor of a bill to ban use of mobile devices while driving.

A bill that would ban cell phones and texting while driving passed out of committee earlier this week and the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie), told me this morning she would be “shocked” if it didn’t become law this session.

The bill, H.B. 2377, would make Oregon’s existing cell phone use while driving law much tougher. Tomei’s bill would make the use of a “mobile communications device” (which includes text messaging) while driving a primary offense. (I regret that earlier this week I incorrectly reported that the bill would only make it a secondary offense. I have corrected that error).

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Making the infraction a primary offense is very important. This means a police officer needs no other reason to pull someone over if they’re talking on a cell phone or texting while driving.

Tomei’s bill would put a complete ban on mobile devices for drivers under 18 years of age, and would allow a hands-free device only for those over 18 years old. The bill also includes exceptions for emergency vehicle operators, agricultural equipment operators and someone who is calling for emergency help (but only if there is no passenger able to do so).

I spoke with Tomei about the bill this morning. She said they’ve gotten “overwhelming support” for the bill from all over the state. For Tomei, the bill is a result of her own experiences walking and biking around her Milwaukie neighborhood.

Rep. Tomei

“I bike and walk a lot,” she said, “and I get very nervous when I come to an intersection. I’m especially careful when people are on a cell phone because there attention is obviously on someone else and not me.”

Tomei said she tried for a similar bill last session, but it couldn’t muster much support. She chalks this up to the increase in cell phone use. “Cell phones are now much more ubiquitous, they’re everywhere.”

Tomei cited a recent survey of 1,200 people that showed 73% said they talk on the phone while driving and 19% say they regularly text while driving. Tomei also said she’s heard loud and clear from constituents that it’s time to get tough on distracted drivers. “I went to a town hall recently,” she said, “and one woman stood and said ‘Tell them to hang up and drive!’. She counted 13 out of 16 people that went by her recently who were talking on the phone while driving.”

According to Tomei, her office has counted up the votes and she expects it will pass. Some detractors (including an opinion article in The Oregonian) have said that Tomei’s bill makes Oregon into a “nanny-state”. Tomei disagrees. She said, “We were being told that years ago when we required seat belts.” (Tomei was also encouraged when many readers of The Oregonian wrote in to express strong agreement with her bill.)

Others (including some legislators) have not been in favor of H.B. 2377 because it still allows hands-free devices for drivers over 18. Tomei said she’d also like to ban hands-free devices for all drivers, but that “we would never pass that this session.” Tomei doesn’t think the exception for hands-free devices is a valid excuse to not vote for the bill. “This is just a first step,” she says.

A state advisory group
wants bike riders to be
included in any cell phone ban.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Last month, the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee sent a letter to the Oregon Transportation Commission urging them to advise the Oregon Department of Transportation to ban cell phones and texting devices while driving and bicycling.

When I asked Tomei’s office this morning why their bill only prohibits cell phone use while driving, a legislative aide they that they wouldn’t be opposed to making it apply to bikes and cars, but that the idea simply had “never come up.”

A simple omission of the word “motor” in front of “vehicle” in the bill language should suffice in order to make this apply to all vehicles on Oregon roadways. The aide said she would work on that and get back to me about it. If necessary, the new language could be put into the Senate version of the bill and it would likely not be a significant change in terms of the bill’s support.

If you think this is an important step in improving traffic safety in Oregon, consider contacting your representative.

Stay tuned.

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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Hart
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Hart

I can say that every single collision or near miss I’ve had with a motorist involved somebody on a cellphone.

Perry
Guest
Perry

They absolutely should make this apply to all vehicles, motorized or not. If only to knock down any perception that this is a gimmee for bicyclists.

Scott
Guest
Scott

As a cyclist, a pedestrian, a motorist, and a cell phone user I strongly object to this bill. I really hope it does not pass. I would have much rather seen the Idaho Stop bill pass than this bill.

This bill DOES continue to turn Oregon into a “nanny state” just as seat belt laws did.

…and why the exemption for police and emergency workers? I very often see police using hand held cell phones while they drive. This reminds me of the rule that it is ok for the police officer to ride his/her bike on the sidewalk downtown, but it is NOT ok for me to do so–even in a safe manner.

This law should NOT be passed.

daniel
Guest

seriously….it’s about time. and that’s coming from someone who’s business is dependant on the bloody things. way to go carolyn!

nibo
Guest
nibo

YES! I’m so pleased with this! I’ve watched friends talk/text in their cars and it scares the crap out of me!

JeffW
Guest
JeffW

Having lived in Santa Fe, NM, which has a similar hands-free city ordinance, this is a great step. Making the action a primary offense is an extremely important aspect; however, enforcement will be *the* determinant in its success.

For instance, the SF ordinance was rarely enforced. In fact, it was not uncommon to witness city cops on their phones while driving.

bean
Guest
bean

So, dialing a phone with a hands free device is illegal too? How anyone tell the difference between texting and dialing.

This should definitely pertain to cyclists too.

Next up, no coffee drinking while driving, no sipping water bottles while cycling!

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Police do use cell phones for police business to keep traffic down over the air.

Since offenders can scan the police bands, cell phones are often used to co-ordinate the in apprehending criminals.

Scott
Guest
Scott

@ nibo #5 I have watched many friends and fellow cyclists riding in an unsafe manner all over our streets. I’ve seen them almost cause accidents too. Does this mean we should ban all cyclists from roads too?

fredlf
Guest
fredlf

So to those who argue “nanny-state” against this law, how do you feel about drunk-driving? Should we allow that too?

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

I think this is getting into dangerous territory (no pun intended) as far as banning things. My iPhone is also an iPod and sometimes I listen to podcasts on the headphones while riding. Does this mean if I’m using my “mobile communications device” to listen to music, I’m breaking the law?

kgb
Guest
kgb

Yes! This bill is fantastic. This is not a “nanny-state” law. This is a public safety law. If you only had the potential to hurt yourself through this behavior then that would be your business. If this is a nanny state law then I guess so is the speed limit, requirements to use turn signals and dui laws.

Chris
Guest
Chris

@Scott: I couldn’t agree with you more.

Another good reason why this law shouldn’t pass: No exemption for FCC Licensed Amateur Radio Operators or Commercial Vehicles.

So, the next time power is out, remember that the PGE truck has to stop and pull over to the side of the road and waste much time, even just to try to verify the location of a down power line with their dispatcher.

Also, depending on how this bill is interpreted, it could also restrict the ability for a driver to operate his/her car stereo. A lot of car stereos receive RDS (radio data service), a.k.a. a text message relating to the current song that is playing or the radio station they are tuned to. Imagine having to pull over to adjust the volume 🙂

What’s the point of allowing “hands-free accessories” if all that means is that both hands must just remain on the wheel? Car manufactures will just start moving their cell phone or text messaging controls to the wheel to subvert the law…

This law is just bad, bad, bad and does nothing to fix the problem…

Chris
Guest
Chris

@Paul Cone:

If the device is capable of displaying text, as written, YES!

She
Guest
She

This is great, next session lets get rid of the Hands Free Device allowance.

Scott – you are going to have to stop when calling now. No one is saying you cannot use a cell phone just not while driving a vehicle.

Paul – I hope this extends to mp3 players that are also cell phones b/c you should not be driving or riding with headphones on/in your ears.

I almost got hit by another cyclist with earbuds in his ear, he looked shocked when I went around him, duh, take out the earbuds and listen to your surroundings – that is the benefit of riding a bike – you can also hear what is going on around you better than in a car or on a motorcycle.

It is also an added benefit to my quiet electric vehicle!

Thanks Jonathan for this report!

solid gold
Guest
solid gold

this is a great bill, but why would you want it to apply to BICYCLES TOO?

fatalities caused by cars last year in america: 35,000

fatalities caused by bikes in america last year: 0

is it because you want to be “fair” to cars? ok, fine, why stop there, let’s make everything fair to cars. let’s allow bikes to park against street posts, and drive on the springwater corridor, and let’s also have Multnomah Co. Car Fair, and Car Fun too…

“fair” is a concept that exists only in the minds of the naive and powerless. you don’t always have to kiss car culture’s ass to get what you want.

Barney
Guest
Barney

People who whine about the “nanny state” probably haven’t been in a near collision daily with a cell phone driver. A law that allows hands-free devices is a fine compromise that everyone in New York and New Jersey have learned to live with no problem.

M
Guest
M

The whole nanny state discussion hinges on the idea that driving is essentially a freedom or a right. It’s not, it’s an allowance and one that has enormous public health consequences.

You don’t have to be a cyclist to understand that. Insofar as it serves a function, driving is ALL ABOUT regulation of what you can do and where you can go, so any slippery slope was built in from the first day there were speed limits. Sorry. Yes, it would be onerous to not be able to sip coffee while driving, but the inside of a car is not some kind of protected private space and it never has been.

Ash...Housewares
Guest
Ash...Housewares

Scott (3):

Laws like this are for one reason. A good percentage of the population is incapable or unwilling to police themselves. Anyone who thinks they can text or hold a phone to the side of their head without impairing their reaction time is a fool. If you think I’m wrong then try this; Hold your phone up to your head right now….How’s the peripheral vision on that side? I imagine it’s better than looking directly down while trying to find the letter X on your keypad. The point is the visual distraction from your primary responsibility when driving OR cycling: The safety of yourself and others around you.
That being said I have no problem with hands free devices. I see them as no more distracting than singing along with the radio or conversing with a passenger in the car with you.
Personaly I love not talking on the phone while driving. It’s one of the few times I can give that blasted thing the finger and exsist unmolested by constant connectivity.

Pass this Bill!!!!!

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

Scott (#3)
Your nanny state comment would be valid if accidents affected only the cell phone user. Car or truck drivers with cell phones would be unscathed in an accident that killed a cyclist.

Drivers (and cyclists too) owe it to all road users to pay full attention to driving (riding).

Pass this Bill

Hart
Guest
Hart

Dudes, we can still totally use fax machines inside our cars and email on our laptops while driving. And there’s nothing in the bill that says we can’t still etch-a-sketch at the same time as we’re supposed to be operating an automobile. We’ll still have lots of stuff to do while driving our cars!!!

Q`ztal
Guest
Q`ztal

Any law that makes a specific behavior illegal could be defined as furthering the creation of the “nanny state”.

The opposite of this is to allow police discretion to arrest offenders for behavior that is hazardous without a specific law. This could be good: if citizens know that they can be arrested and jailed for doing something stupid even if there isn’t a specific law then there would naturally be fewer infractions across the board. This is called a “police state”. Even the most despot knows they can not trust all of their own police. The hypothetically perfect “benevolent dictator” who actually cares for all of her citizens, running a police state, would have to control the police with the iron fist that the people are spared.

Do you trust every cop to enforce public safety at their own discretion? Not just the cop you know but all of them, late at night in unmarked cars yelling at citizens without identifying themselves?

If anything these “nanny state” laws are only superficially for our protection: they are to constrain the powers that police have to exercise against the citizenry that they “protect”.

Of course we could abolish all laws and allow “survival of the fittest” to rule the road; I look forward to the days when I can go to the bike shop and get a bottle cage and a holder for my sawed off shotgun and TEC-9.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

We wouldn’t need a nanny state if our fellow citizens weren’t idiots.

Absolutely should apply to cyclists too.

Hart
Guest
Hart

Any law that makes a specific behavior illegal could be defined as furthering the creation of the “nanny state”.

Homocide is a specific activity that is illegal.

Q`ztal
Guest
Q`ztal

#17

Bikes too: because that egomaniac that showed off their car phone, to show everyone how important he is, is now on a bike about to plow in to a pedestrian with an iPod in their ears walking in a crosswalk.

Does the pedestrian have right of way: yes.
Is it stupid to walk out in to traffic, crosswalk or not, with out looking: yes.
Can a fast moving cyclist still injure a pedestrian who is paying attention to traffic: yes.

RonC
Guest
RonC

Having had numerous close calls with cell phone wielding motorists, I am generally in favor of this type of law. However, I do wonder if there will be unintended safety concerns caused by drivers needing to pull over to place a call or dial their hands free device. Passing on the right, even if you are riding in designated bike lanes, may become significantly more dangerous in those instances.

are
Guest
are

class D violation is on the scale of failing to signal a lane change, max fine ninety bucks, not nearly enough. push your legislator to kick it up to class C, max fine one eighty, class B, max three sixty, or class A, mas seven twenty. also, there should be no exception for hands free. talking to a disembodied figure is just as distracting as holding a little box.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

An utterly useless feel-good measure.

Grimm
Guest
Grimm

This is great. If people want to drive, thats one thing, but everyone needs to take some responsibility and focus on driving your car. IMO you know why people feel like they need to have music or be talking to someone while in their car? Cause its booooring.

Scott, if being a nanny state means a few less accidents and a few more tickets so be it. Its obviously a slippery slope, and im sure some people can talk and drive attentively. But the number of people who think can and those who can are disproportionate. Ive had more close calls with people on phones than not. I dont want to lose any skin just so people can chit chat on their drive home.

she, I hear where you are coming from. I only put my headphones in when riding on spring water or when im riding outside of the city. And when you hit some old country roads it doesnt really matter if you have music or not. Traffic is passing you at 50-60, just hold your line is all you can do.

Solid Gold, just because cyclists arent dying does not make it safer to ride and talk on the phone. Ive Im more fine with it if they have a hands-free set. But you need to have both hands ready in case something happens quickly in front of you.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Whoot! Finally some legislation that makes sense.

If you don’t understand the danger introduced by cell phones and the like, then you are either not a road user, or you are not paying attention.

This is one of the reasons why our roads are more dangerous than the roads in other developed countries.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

Scott, #3:

This bill DOES continue to turn Oregon into a “nanny state” just as seat belt laws did.

Wrong.

A law is only a “nanny-state” law if it attempts to keep you from killing yourself. This law ia an attempt to keep you from killing me.

It’s still a useless feel-good measure, because there’s absolutely NO difference in the level of impairment between hand-held and hands-free cell phone use.

Way to do nothing at all, while looking busy, Rep. Tomei.

P Finn
Guest

typo 6th pp there>their

carless in pdx
Guest
carless in pdx

This is great news! But I guess I’ll have to stop texting and talking on the phone while incoherently weaving across all 4 lanes on Broadway.

Now I just wish all the rest of the cyclists out on the streets would get bells and use them while passing pedestrians and bicyclists because it gets really annoying getting surprised by all these bike ninjas out there.

Get a clue

Q`ztal
Guest
Q`ztal

#24
And a good thing too.

Homicide, or murder as it is commonly called, is a funny thing. Through out time shifting morals, politics and education have changed its definition.

Things that used to be called justice are now murder. I believe that that is called “progress”.

At what point will causing someone’s death through inaction be lumped in to the legal definition of murder? Is allowing the multiple DUI committing driver to own and drive a vehicle tantamount to accessory to homicide?

If it can be scientifically proven that cell phone use, or computer use or even the car stereo or makeup application, statistically causes an increase in vehicular deaths are we not, as citizens and therefore lawmakers, responsible for, through our inaction in enforcement, the deaths that these government licensed citizens cause?

RonC
Guest
RonC

Just out of curiosity, could someone explain to me why they think there is less impairment when talking to a passenger than talking on a hands-free device? They seem quite similar to me. If the ‘studies’ are correct that the impairment is the same whether hands-free or not (which I don’t believe), then one could argue that talking on a cell phone is no more dangerous that riding with a passenger in the car.(Assuming the driver and passenger are not giving each other the silent treatment.) Conversely, you could turn this around and argue that since talking on a cell phone while driving is no less dangerous than talking with a passenger, that it is then frivolous to ban cell phone use while driving. Again, this logic is based on the supposition that hands-free and non hands-free operation are equal safety hazards, an argument that I don’t buy.

Frank
Guest
Frank

Just a thought but I like to be able to see if the driver is on their cell phone. The handsfree makes it possible for anyone to be on the phone. (or just singing to the music) You can’t look to see if they are holding the phone up to their ear. I ride a lot too and have had many close calls. I ride a lot in LA (while at college) and have not noticed a significant difference with the hands free ordinance passed here. The only way to tell if the driver is actually paying attention is to make eye contact, cell phone or not.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

The studies show that the level of impairment while talking hands-free is equivalent to the level of impairment while talking hand-held. They also show that there’s no similar level of impairment talking to somebody in the car.

You can choose not to believe the science, if you want, but the fact is, you don;t have any studies to back up what you believe.

Hart
Guest
Hart

but the fact is, you don;t have any studies to back up what you believe.

Wrong, Rixtir. Out of about ten collisions or near misses I’ve had in the last three years, all have involved a driver on their cell phone. That’s a 100% failure rate. Science!

MikeOnBike
Guest
MikeOnBike

I haven’t read the bill but this may also outlaw the use of CB and HAM radios as they could be considered a “mobile communications device” . I think there is some protection of HAM radio at the federal level that might conflict with this bill.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

Hart, I think you misunderstood what I’m saying.

RonC is saying that he doesn’t believe the science that demonstrates that hands-free and hand-held cell phone use impair drivers at the same level.

I was saying that the science demonstrates that they do impair at the same level, and that the science also demonstrates that there is no similar level of impairment from talking with passengers.

In other words, you and I are in total agreement about the effect cell phone use has on driving.

RonC
Guest
RonC

Rixter (#37) – I would be interested in learning more about the study(s) that indicate less impairment when a driver is speaking to a passenger than on a hands-free device. I’m all for science, as long as the research is well constructed and is applicable to real-world conditions. Could you post a link? Is there a hypothesis as to why such a difference occurs?

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

RonC: I’ve read that the impairment when talking on a cell phone is greater than the impairment when talking to a passenger because a passenger instinctively stops a conversation if the car gets into a potentially unsafe situation. They can also alert the driver to a potentially unsafe situation as well. The person on the other end of a cell phone doesn’t know that they should stop talking, so the driver ends up involved in a conversation when they should spend more energy concentrating on the road.

I’m not sure how much evidence there is to prove the explanation, but it does make a certain amount of sense. I wonder how much of an impairment cell phone conversations are compared to certain types of radio (live sports events, talk radio), or eating/drinking while at the wheel. I can understand why we outlaw drunken driving, alcohol can impair motor skills and decision-making abilities, but if we’re banning cell phones because of the level of distraction they provide, doesn’t that open us up to study other behaviors that may provide an equal (or greater) level of distraction?

I’ve suffered a couple of close calls at the hands of people speaking on cell phones (and a few from people who weren’t), so I’m not going to cry too hard if the bill gets passed. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced the full ramifications of this bill have been thought out yet.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

Here’s a link to one study:

http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/xap144-drews.pdf

Although they don’t make it clear that they are using hands-free cell phones in the study, Figre 2 shows the driver using a hands-free device.

RonC
Guest
RonC

cyclist (#42) – OK. The ‘extra eyes’ hypothesis does make some sense, as long as the passenger is not otherwise distracted, blind, etc. I can see how a statistical correlation would result from that factor. I still say that hand-held devices are inherently more dangerous, maybe not due to the level of mental distraction, but more due to the impairment of being able to physically react at a moments notice. Much like having your hands full and someone tosses you a ball. I would postulate the hands-full phenomenon poses significant issues for most any driver, even worse for those with manual transmissions.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

RonC: I found a study here that used simulators to try to understand the difference between cell phone conversations and in-car passenger/driver conversations:

Click here

“…an in-vehicle passenger responds to the demands of the driving context by reducing demand for the conversation task (e.g by changing production rate…”

Highlights from the study:

“The conversation data suggest that passengers (in the car) take an active role in supporting the driver as indicated by passengers more frequently talking about the surrounding traffic. It seems likely that a passenger supports the driver by directing attention to the surrounding traffic when perceived necessary…. Thus, the higher driving performance in the passenger condition is due in part to the shared situation awareness between driver and passenger…”

Their results show that people on the other end of a cell phone actually also shorten their sentences when the driver is in a stressful situation, which they assume is because they take their cues from the driver changing his/her own speech patterns.

This study is hardly gospel, They had a limited number of participants and you could almost certainly do a study based on real-world conditions w/ some sort of video tape monitoring, but I think it does give a representative example of why people think in-car conversations are less harmful than cell phone conversations.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

Cyclist, #42:

What you’ve read is confirmed in the study i linked above.

I think it’s misleading to call cell phone use while driving “distracted driving.” It’s impaired driving, just like DUI is impaired driving, and calling it distracted driving only makes it seem less dangerous than it really is, seemingly equivalent to talking with a passenger, or listening to the radio, rather than equivalent to DUI, which is actually the case.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

RonC: If the “hands-full” phenomenon is real, then the law really should cover actions above and beyond cell phone conversations. Eating and drinking should be banned, as should smoking.

John
Guest
John

I’ve written my representative in opposition to this bill as it is too vague as written. I agree that there should be a cell phone and texting ban, but by saying mobile communications device that includes my two-way radios. How can this affect cyclists? By making it harder to SAG vehicles to communicate as this bill will also ban FRS, GMRS and amateur radio in vehicles.

RonC
Guest
RonC

cyclist (#47) – Yes, I think you could make that argument. In any of these examples, the issue as I see it is, do we as a whole gain more utility by limiting use of these hand held impairments, or by continuing to allow their use. From a strict safety-first standpoint, they would all be banned. But there are other utility factors that needs to be considered and factored in. As cyclists, our set-point for accepting safety risks is arguably different (for a good reason) than the general public.

peejay
Guest
peejay

rixtir:

I agree with everything you are saying about hands-free devices, but I disagree with you about the efficacy of this law, for the same reason that I disagree with anyone who thinks this law is useless because it fails to ban many other dangerous activities. If it fails to eliminate impaired driving, but at least cuts down on the frequency of impaired driving by some non-trivial amount, then it’s a good law. If it banned hands-free devices, it would be better, but I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.