The (illegal) use of mobile phones while operating a vehicle is way too common in Portland and more needs to be done to raise awareness of this and other behaviors that lead to distracted driving.
I’m sure there was a brief period after January 1, 2010 — when our state’s cell phone law went into effect — when people focused on driving and not talking. But my first-hand observations tell me that texting and talking on cell phones while driving and riding is out of control. Not a day goes by when I don’t see people doing this extremely dangerous activity.
As validation for my observations, consider the Portland Police Bureau stats presented by the Portland Tribune back in June:
Portland Police Bureau data show that after a week and a half of warnings at the start of January, officers handed out 410 citations from Jan. 11 to Feb. 10. People seemed to have gotten the message. The next month, from Feb. 11 to March 10, only 190 citations were issued. But the next month, there were 259. And, from April 11 to May 10, police issued 324.
I also got an email from Peter R. a few days ago that really got under my skin. He and his family nearly got run down while pedaling on a local bike boulevard (emphasis mine)…
“This past Sunday, my family and I were cycling on NE Tillamook when we encountered a dangerous and rude driver at the intersection of NE 12th and Tillamook. The driver in question was engaged in conversation on her cell phone, failed to observe the STOP sign controlling her direction of travel and began to roll into the intersection as our family was at midpoint and directly in her path.
Fortunately she slammed on her brakes as we took evasive maneuvers and all avoided physical injury. My wife and I pointed to her STOP sign and gestured to her that she hang up the phone but rather than acknowledging her offense and offer apology, she instead became verbally abusive, gunned her engine, and sped off all the while remaining connected on her call…”
And of course there was the crash I reported on earlier this week where a man on a bike was run over by a woman operating a car while talking on her cell phone and “she was not aware that she hit him.”
Instead of waiting for a fatal crash and the tragic headlines that usually pressure us into action, we need to be more proactive on the issue of distracted driving.
Now would be a great time for our Mayor and Commissioner of Transportation, Sam Adams — who has said repeatedly that his #1 priority is safety — to use his position to raise awareness for this serious public safety issue. US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood has done a stellar job keeping distracted driving front and center as a national issue. Mayor Adams would be smart to follow suit.
Here are a few ideas:
- Work with Multnomah County to hang banners with a catchy slogan across all the downtown bridges.
- Work with the Police Bureau to do some enforcement actions (and invite the media to cover it).
- Do a City Hall “Ride for Awareness” with Mayor Adams and the other commissioners.
- The BTA’s Bike Commute Challenge is next month; Mayor Adams could proclaim it officially as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
As for the law itself, it needs to be strengthened in the 2011 session to clearly outlaw all use of mobile phones while operating a vehicle (eliminate the “handsfree” exception as well as the exception for using one “in the course of one’s employment”). And yes, that goes for people operating bicycles too.
Do you think Portland should do more to raise awareness of this issue? What’s your opinion?