this would be perfectly legal if HB 2507 passes.
(Photo © J. Maus)
In 2009, the Oregon State Legislature passed a law (ORS 811.507) that makes it illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving (hands-free headsets are allowed). The law was great news for traffic safety advocates who are well aware of the clear and present dangers posed by distracted vehicle operators. This session there are four bills that seek to make amendments to that law — and surprisingly, two of them would actually make it weaker.
HB 2507 seeks to allow usage of a mobile communication device while operating a motor vehicle in “frontier counties.” The bill defines such counties as those which have a population density of fewer than six people per square mile. There are 36 counties in Oregon. A cursory analysis reveals that 11 of them — Baker, Crook, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Wallowa, and Wheeler — would become legal cell phone usage zones if this law were to pass. The map below shows the counties shaded in red…
Two things are of particular note when thinking about HB 2507. First, all the legislators sponsoring it so far voted against the cell phone bill back in 2009. The second, and more important in my opinion, is that these rural counties where lawmakers want to allow cell phone use are home to the deadliest roadways in our state.
According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (as stated in their 2011 Traffic Safety Performance Plan), the traffic fatality rate in rural areas is about 2.0 per million miles traveled. On urban roads, that rate is only about 0.6. Here’s another data point worth keeping in mind:
“Over 72 percent of all 2008 traffic deaths in Oregon (including speed-related events) occurred on the Rural State Highway System. The Oregon State Police do not have the staffing levels needed to appropriately address and make significant death and injury reductions given current and known future staffing levels.”
Another proposed law that would weaken our existing cell phone bill is HB 2822. This bill would make the law a secondary offense — meaning a police officer could only cite someone for the violation if they had already stopped them for some other reason. Currently, because it’s a primary offense, if an officer sees someone using a cell phone while driving, they can pull them over and give them a ticket. That would change if this bill passes. HB 2822 is sponsored by Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) (who also voted against the existing law).
If, unlike the lawmakers mentioned above, you feel that our cell phone law should get tougher on violators instead of weaker, than there are two bills you can get behind.
Senate Bill 407 seeks to remove one of the (many) existing exceptions to the law. The bill, “removes exception for person operating motor vehicle in scope of person’s employment.” This bill seems smart, seeing as how “employment” in this case was never defined by lawmakers in 2009.
House Bill 2594, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley), would amend our existing cell phone law so that bus operators would face suspension of their commercial driver’s license if found to be in violation of it.
We’re tracking all these bills as well as many others… Stay tuned. Browse all of our 2011 Legislative Session coverage here.