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Cell phone ban stuck in Senate committee

Posted by on June 9th, 2009 at 11:13 am

Rep. Carolyn Tomei

Last time we checked in on HB 2377, it was on its way to easy passage on the House floor.

It got through the House at the end of April by a vote of 38-22. Since then, it has had one reading in the Senate, bounced around to committees and work sessions and now it rests in the Senate Rules Committee.

The bill is being pushed by Rep. Carolyn Tomei whose district (41) includes Southeast Portland down through Milwaukie.

On the phone from Salem yesterday, Tomei said now is the time to urge Senators to support the bill. She says Rules Committee Chair Richard Devlin has made made it clear he’d pass it out of committee but that “the challenge” will be mustering enough support on the Senate floor.

Story continues below


“To me, this is a public safety bill,” said Tomei. However, she worries that Senate Republicans will line up against the bill: “The Republicans have taken a party-line vote against the bill… for no specific grounds, but from their concerns that we’re becoming a nanny-state.” (Only four out of 24 House Republicans voted in favor of the bill).

Repbulican Senator Jason Atkinson loves
riding bikes. He could have an important
vote if the bill reaches the floor.
(Photo © J. Maus)

One Republican Tomei said needs to hear from constituents on this bill is Sen. Jason Atkinson. Tomei singled Atkinson out because of his enthusiasm for biking (he was a speaker at the recent Oregon Bike Summit). Atkinson was a staunch supporter of the Idaho Stop bill (which didn’t make it out of committee) and he supported a near-successful attempt to allow fixed geared bicycles to not have a separate hand brake. Atkinson has not yet responded to our calls for comment on this bill.

Our recent story on the bill generated 80 comments. Many of those were supportive of the bill, saying it would be a great step in improving safety. But others felt it didn’t go far enough.

As written, the current bill would make use of a “mobile communication device” a Class D traffic violation. (NOTE: This story originally said the bill would allow police officers to enforce it only as a secondary action, but that is incorrect. HB 2377 would make violation of this law a primary offense. I apologize for the error.)

Among the exceptions when a mobile device could be used while operating a motor vehicle include people operating emergency vehicles, farm equipment, CB radios (which was left out of House version), and so on.

Another exception where the law wouldn’t apply is stated like this:

“… a person operating a motor vehicle in the scope of the person’s employment if operation of the motor vehicle is necessary for the person’s job;”

When I asked if that exception weakened the bill, Tomei said no. “It’s not in there so you can call your secretary,” she said, “It’s only for utility workers, truckers, etc…” When I asked Tomei if certain employment types were clearly defined in the bill she said no, but that, “we’ve made it clear what we meant in testimony.”

The Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee has not made a direct statement about HB 2377, but they did write a letter to ODOT in March calling for an “all driver ban” for both motor vehicle and bicycle operators.

— Learn more about HB 2377 (including a link to the full text) here. To contact your representative in Salem, see this page on The Oregonian’s new Your Government website.

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  • peejay June 9, 2009 at 11:30 am

    With the failure of this bill, that’ll make the BTA’s record a complete goose egg. Good job, guys! 5000 members? Make that 4999.

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  • Schrauf June 9, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Although the BTA may have some issues to resolve, these types of failures say more about our politicians, and/or the people they represent.

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  • Allan June 9, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    is there a handsfree exception to this bill?

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  • Bill Stites June 9, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    What an obvious safety hazard.

    Aren’t there a bunch of studies indicating that talking on a phone while driving is equivalent to having a couple of alcoholic drinks?? Hands-free might help a little, but it’s the INATTENTION that’s the core problem.

    Just looking around at drivers on cell phones – which is VERY common now – it’s pretty clear that there is a major compromise in their ability to operate their vehicle safely. Inattention, lack of turn signals [‘cept for those with 3 arms] – it’s outrageous that the general public is put at such a high risk by such drivers … and that this is allowed by law.


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  • John Reinhold June 9, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Isn’t this really just treating the symptom and not the disease?

    Cell Phones are not the problem. It is Drivers who are the problem.

    All this law will do is raise funds by ticketing people. Almost everyone I know will probably ignore this law most of the time.

    What would be more appropriate would be a raise in driver education standards, more strict licensing requirements, regular re-testing, and more rigid holding drivers accountable.

    You can ban any device you want, but until people are held accountable for running people over – no one will change behavior.

    Cell phones are not the only distraction in an automobile. Has anyone ever tried to navigate the menu system in a modern vehicle console? Our MyGig interface must have been designed by MySpace users.

    How about driving stressed? How about driving with kids? How about pets? How about driving while under the influence of spouse?

    Cell phone bans are just a “look – we do care about safety” empty gesture by lawmakers.

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  • mmann June 9, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I wrote my senator. I don’t want to get too far off topic since I think this is basically a good bill – trying to talk in heavy traffic involving turns is just dumb but people do it all the time.

    Here’s what I’d like to see and I think this would begin to change behavior – BIG jumps in auto insurance rates when your carrier discovers you have been cited for talking on the phone while driving. Hit folks in the pocket book and they’ll get the message.

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  • Argentius June 9, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Agree with those that suggest that this is not going to be more than a weak band-aid solution.

    It is distraction in all cases, and not the use of a handheld device, that is dangerous.

    A weak, difficult to enforce law against certain types of distraction isn’t going to be a great deal of help.

    I’d rather police spend their efforts stopping dangerous driving, in many cases ticketing offenses that are already prohibited. It seems to me there are already plenty of those to go around.

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  • GLV June 9, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Cell Phones are not the problem. It is Drivers who are the problem.

    Talking on a phone while riding a bike is just as much of a safety hazard, and should be banned as well.

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  • DJ Hurricane June 9, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    “Talking on a phone while riding a bike is just as much of a safety hazard, and should be banned as well.”

    Really? Bikes and automobiles do approximately the same amount of damage when they collide with other objects? I’m guessing you didn’t do very well in physics, and that you’re not familiar with the statistics released by the NHTSA. Too bad, because that post reveals your ignorance.

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  • Disastronaut June 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    The irony is that you will still be able to do insanely dangerous things while driving like shaving, flossing your teeth and eating a breakfast burrito.

    Though taking the cellphone out of the juggling act is probably a good thing.

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  • Joe June 9, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    bad driver with cell phone= trouble. i see it all the time now..

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  • Kris June 9, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    I am confused. Aren’t republicans a minority in both houses? Shouldn’t Tomei et al. just make sure that her fellow democrats in the Senate vote in favor of the bill in order to get it passed?

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  • Brad June 9, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    DJ #9 – regardless of physics, operating any vehicle, even human powered, while distracted is very dangerous. I’ve seen many a rider run lights and stop signs at high speeds while talking or reading texts on their phones.

    Same logic applies to intoxication. ALL road users need to be treated equally with regards to rights and responsibilities as we are all traffic.

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  • Rixtir June 9, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    A bill with more loopholes in it than a sieve.

    I can see through your smoke and mirrors, Rep. Tomei. This bill does nothing to stop people from using their cells while they drive.

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  • ken June 9, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Are there any concrete statistics regarding the reduction in traffic accidents following implementation of similar laws in other states?

    Why, instead of penalizing everyone, can’t the legislature just increase the punishment for traffic accidents caused by inattention? If I want to yak on my cell while driving, as long as I don’t rear-end anyone, I should be allowed to. If I cause an accident, I’ll take my medicine like a man.

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  • GLV June 9, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Really? Bikes and automobiles do approximately the same amount of damage when they collide with other objects? I’m guessing you didn’t do very well in physics, and that you’re not familiar with the statistics released by the NHTSA. Too bad, because that post reveals your ignorance.

    Hang on a sec while I take those words out of my mouth…

    Much better. DJ, I was referring to the danger posed to cyclists themselves when they ride around talking on a cell phone. If you are distracted while cycling, you could miss a pothole, momentarily lose control of your bicycle, veering into vehicular traffic…all sorts of things could happen that place your life in jeopardy.

    What if a cyclist is on a cell phone, meanders through a stop light (I’ve seen it many times at Williams and Skidmore), and gets pasted by a 65 year old retiree on their way to the grocery store? The cyclist is dead, and the motorist has to live with that for the rest of their life.

    If we are going to ban dangerous behavior, let’s be honest about what that dangerous behavior is, and protect all road users from it equally.

    I’m sorry you can’t see things from the perspective of a motorist. I’m also sorry that, as soon as you see something you might object to, your instant response is to lob around anonymous insults. It’s easy, but not particularly effective.

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  • Brian June 9, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    I want to barf. One good thing they could have done and they ruined it.

    They have already made it to weak by far.

    This needs to be primary offense.

    The exemption for ‘scope of employment’ is utterly retarded. Truckers are some of the worse offenders. The other day I saw a guy eating an apple, and talking on the phone, and smoking all the same time while driving a semi. How can that be legal? Even if he is following the speed limit etc, it would be impossable to react in a reasonable way to even the smallest unexpected event.

    Distracted driving is a menace to all road users.

    Politicians yer all retards!

    Be safe people.

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  • Coyote June 9, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    I am afraid I am going to come down on the GOP side of this. This a reversal for me, but John Reinhold is right, distracted drivers that don’t care if enough if they run into things is the problem. People have a way finding stupid things to do, and this law will not change that. You simply cannot legislate mindfulness.

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  • Joe June 9, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    most drivers see cyclists as non traffic,
    we are traffic. cell phone use is not particularly effective while driving! 🙂

    sorry almost got right hooked today by this guy tring to talk and drive.

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  • Bob_M June 9, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    It will never happen, but with GPS interface a phone can be programmed to shut off if is moving (pick any speed)

    The crazy thing about this bill not moving forward is that cell phone users are hazards to other drivers as well. This would benifit everyone except the companies who pay lobbiests to influence politicians.

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  • Quentin June 9, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Even if this bill becomes law, I don’t think it will be very effective. The vast majority of careless, obnoxious drivers won’t be able to resist yakking on their phone, oblivious to the danger they are creating for others, and the only difference will be that they have one more law to disregard without being punished.

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  • Drew June 10, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Surprising how some comments to this cell phone bill read like “it won’t help much and there are lots of other distractions anyways so lets just oppose it (or not support it)”.

    It’s weak but it is a step in the right direction. Those who would oppose it think that some kind of distraction while driving is inevitable, or perhaps acceptable. Does not matter if I am eating a burrito or talking on the phone while driving- I should get an expensive ticket or a suspension of my license. It’s what I signed up for when I got it. Distracted driving is not okay. “I didn’t see him” should not be an excuse anymore. It’s time for strong laws to address this. Thank you Senator Tomei for introducing this bill.

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  • Jason June 10, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Brad (#13):

    Yeah, I’m constantly yakking on my phone or texting while eating a breakfast burrito and drinking coffee AND shaving on my bike ride to work in the morning.

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  • Rich Wilson June 10, 2009 at 9:05 am

    California perspective here (where only ‘hands free’ phones are legal). I see people on cell phones all the time. I’ve even seen people texting a few times. More than before the law? Hard to say, but people seem to care about the no cell phone law as much as they care about speed limits.

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  • Kate June 10, 2009 at 10:56 am

    @Disastronaut, #10: No kidding! Good points! I have seen countless people eating/shaving/putting on makeup while driving — even mascara! Geesh! Hope they aren’t attached to that eye…LOL!

    In all seriousness though, I hope this bill passes. I also hope they have a caveat about allowing hands-free cell phone use in a moving vehicle.

    While I only have anecdotal evidence, it seems like every time someone does stupid while driving (myself included), a cell phone seems to be the common denominator.

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  • Rollie June 10, 2009 at 11:33 am

    I live in Washington State where we have a cell phone ban that has a hands-free exemption. Little good it has done, everyone still has their phone up to their ear.

    Last summer I was in France where you can not talk on a phone and drive. No exceptions, no hands-free devices. People seem to get along just fine without their phones for the time they spend in their cars.

    Just ban the bloody things, no exceptions, no exemptions other than for police and fire.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) June 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm


    Just realized i’ve made a big mistake.

    This story originally said the bill would allow police officers to enforce it only as a secondary action, but that is incorrect. HB 2377 would make violation of this law a primary offense. I apologize for the error and i’ve corrected it in the story above.

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  • Pete June 10, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Rich Wilson, I recently moved to California and had no idea there was a ban (given what I see) – thanks for pointing that out.

    I agree with John Reinhold that it’s the distracted driver that’s the problem, but I’d assert that there are few to no drivers (or cyclists) who can use a cell phone without being distracted. And yeah, I’ve answered a few calls (both transport modes) and been guilty myself.

    And I agree with John that children in the car can be a huge distraction. No offense, Moms and Dads, but I’ve learned that schools are some of the most dangerous places to ride near. In my experience I’m pulled out in front of, right-hooked, and swerved into by distracted parents more than anywhere else on a roadway. (All close calls fortunately, never been hit in two decades of riding – knock on wood – but my safety radar goes on high alert around minivans and Suburbans – that’s just what I see, no offense).

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  • fredlf June 11, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Bill (#4), yes there are a large number of studies, performed in several countries, all of which show conclusively that talking on a cell phone, even hands-free, is as dangerous as being intoxicated. There are a number of psychological/perceptual reasons why this is the case. The studies and the science are very nicely summarized in Tom Vanderbilt’s book “Traffic.”

    Driving is a privilege, not a right. It’s completely, utterly reasonable to mandate that everyone who wants to enjoy the privilege obey common sense rules, like not talking on a phone and driving. If the commons is not managed, it goes away.

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  • wsbob June 11, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    I was trying to to find some information on the cell phone ban while driving in France that Rollie #26 mentions; couldn’t find much. Safe of the American Safety Council claims (there’s no date clearly stated):

    “Drivers in the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom may use cell phones but can be fined if they are involved in crashes while using the phone.”

    The following link leads to an article with some information about distraction related to cell phone use while driving. Other problem distractions typically experienced while driving that states have tried to deal with are noted too.

    THE TOPIC: Cell Phones and Driving, October 2007
    By The Gosline Insurance Group
    Pease Insurance Agency
    Tammra Ferraiolo

    Look at what Connecticut is doing:

    “In Connecticut drivers can be fined $100 not only for using a cell phone, but those pulled over for speeding or other moving violations can be fined for other driving distractions such as putting on makeup or turning to discipline children in the back seat.”

    In the article, there’s other stuff too, about hands-held (what fredlf mentions), texting, Washington law, and so on.

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