— like riding blind!
(Photo © J. Maus)
Since Oregon enacted their new cell phone law on January 1st, many people have asked me if it applies to people riding bicycles. My previous opinion was that it doesn’t, but a closer look at the law now has me less certain — and more confused.
The new law applies to people, “operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device.” Since bicycles are not “motor vehicles,” I initially assumed this meant that bicycles would be exempt. But I don’t like to operate on assumptions, especially when it comes to bike laws, so I asked the office of State Representative Carolyn Tomei — the legislator who pushed the cell phone bill — for a clarification.
According to one of the Rep. Tomei’s legislative assistants, Debbie Runciman, “There’s some discussion that the law as written would actually include bicyclists.”
The reason? Oregon Revised Statute 814.400, “Application of vehicle laws to bicycles.”
“(1) Every person riding a bicycle upon a public way is subject to the provisions applicable to and has the same rights and duties as the driver of any other vehicle concerning operating on highways, vehicle equipment and abandoned vehicles, except:
(a) Those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.
(b) When otherwise specifically provided under the vehicle code.
(2) Subject to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section:
(a) A bicycle is a vehicle for purposes of the vehicle code; and
(b) When the term “vehicle” is used the term shall be deemed to be applicable to bicycles.”
This ORS could lead reasonable people to believe that bicycles are included in the cell phone law — but it’s still not crystal clear. 814.400 refers to the term “vehicle” and the new cell phone law refers to “motor vehicle.” If a judge was a stickler for “statutory construction” (as we know some are), they could rule that bicycles aren’t motor vehicles so the law does not apply.
In the end, this is yet another confusing law that has potential for subjective interpretation by police and judges. Or, as Tomei’s legislative assistant put it, “It would probably take a legal challenge for a definitive answer.”