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Oregon Senate says cab drivers should be exempt from cell phone law

Posted by on March 22nd, 2013 at 7:55 am

“These are people who are struggling and their livings are made by whether or not they can pick folks up… This is their life.”
— Sen. Larry George, the bill’s sponsor

The Oregon legislature made a strange move on Monday that is very likely to make Portland roads less safe for everyone. By a vote of 19-11, the Senate passed a bill that adds yet another exception to the state’s existing cell phone law. Senate Bill 294, sponsored by Senator Larry George (R-Sherwood), allows a taxicab driver to use a “mobile communication device”, a.k.a. cell phone, while driving.

This is despite widespread evidence that using a cell phone while driving is very dangerous.

SB 294’s sponsor, Sen. Larry George (yes that Senator) got all 14 of his fellow Republicans to join him in supporting the taxicab exemption. The five Democrats who voted in favor of the bill included; Lee Beyer, Chris Edwards, Betsy Johnson, Ernie Roblan, and Chip Shields.

If this bill is passed by the House and signed by the Governor, it would be added to the already long list of specific usage exemptions to the state’s existing cell phone law. ORS 811.507 provides exemptions to police officers, public safety workers, farm equipment operators, transit workers, public utility workers, tow truck operators, HAM radio operators, and more.

Sen. George, speaking on behalf of his bill in the Senate Chamber today, sought to paint a personal picture of taxicab operators, saying they are facing increasing pressure to make ends meet. “There’s probably not a harder working group of folks than taxi drivers,” he said, “Every single lead is vital to them.” Here’s more from George’s floor remarks:

“These are people who are struggling and their livings are made by whether or not they can pick folks up… This is their life. If we can give them a little bit of flexibility to put a little more money in their pockets to take home with their families, than we should do that.”

Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) said he sees no difference between taxicab drivers and police officers. “Which is more dangerous, a police officer going down the road typing number in his computer, or a cab driver sitting at the curb calling his base station ans saying, ‘I’ve picked up this fare and I’m taking them to this hotel’?” Beyer also said he didn’t think there was a safety difference between a taxi driver talking into a hands-free speaker device (like the old CB radios) and using a cell phone. “I recognize the concerns people have about safety; but I think this is just a matter of what’s been going on for years, long before cell phones were ever created. Nothing has really changed here.”

“They’ve got anxious passengers in the back seat… I worry about the safety and their attention to the road. I’m very concerned about expanding the exemptions to this law.”
— Sen. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward during her floor remarks

Senators in favor of the bill also spoke to the fact that taxicab drivers are “well-trained and high-regulated professionals.”

It’s not clear whether Sen. Beyer understands the bill. It does not require taxicab operators to pull over and the law already allows hands-free devices. To be clear, SB 294 would allow cabbies to hold a cell phone up to their ear and have a conversation while driving.

Three lawmakers spoke against SB 294 on Monday.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward (D-NW Portland/Beaverton) said, “There is no question that using cell phones interferes with safety.” Sen. Steiner-Hayward added that she felt taxicab drivers don’t know their way around as well as police officers or utility workers and that they work in an even more distracted environment. “They’ve got anxious passengers in the back seat,” she said. “I’ve been in cabs in Portland and even when they are using bluetooth devices I worry about the safety and their attention to the road. I’m very concerned about expanding the exemptions to this law.”

Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland) also spoke to the dangers of distracted driving and questioned why taxicab operators couldn’t simply use hands-free devices. “I say if taxicab drivers don’t have a handsfree device, they can do what I do. When my cell phone buzzes and I want to answer it, I pull over and stop. If the taxicab driver wants to answer his phone, he can pull over and stop.”

SB 294 will now head over to the House where it has yet to be assigned to a committee.

— For more on the taxi drivers’ perspective, check out this ride-along I did back in 2009 with a Radio Cab driver.

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  • Chris I March 22, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Ridiculous. Cab drivers are already among the worst offenders on the road. They already pull over and park illegally all over the place, why can’t they do that to answer a call?

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    • Kristen March 22, 2013 at 10:55 am

      Agreed. Whenever I see a taxi on the road, it is driving way too fast and usually tailgating another car.

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    • dbrunker March 23, 2013 at 9:09 am

      There needs to be some clarification here.

      I’m a ham radio operator but I can’t just pick up my phone and call someone, then show the cops my amateur radio operator license and drive off. I’d still get pulled over and handed a hefty ticket. The law is -very- broad and says YOU CAN’T TALK ON *ANY* KIND OF RADIO DEVICE WHILE DRIVING unless you’re using some sort of hands free system. That’s the reason why there are so many exemptions. If a tow truck operator is out driving around and dispatcher says to go some place, s/he needs to be able to pick up a microphone and say, “OK, I’m on my way” and the law does not permit that. It doesn’t mean you can pull your phone out of your pocket and yak with our BBF anytime you please.

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      • Nat March 25, 2013 at 10:43 am

        I believe the law allows anyone legally using a radio on CB, FRS or Amateur radio frequencies to operate as they did before the law existed; meaning you can hold a mic or handheld while driving.

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  • michelle March 22, 2013 at 8:46 am

    I really love when people bring up “jobs” and “livelihood” to pass something really stupid and dangerous. I’ve lost count of close calls I’ve had because people are on their phone and not paying attention to the road.

    It is NEVER safe to talk on the phone while driving and there is NOTHING so important that my life or your life or my neighbor’s life is worth taking while someone answers/talks/texts on their cell phone. NOTHING.

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  • Mike Seager March 22, 2013 at 8:54 am

    An Oregon Taxi (Eugene Company) driver almost left hooked and killed me earlier this week, and I’ve yet to have them do anything about it. I survived only because I’m quick on the brakes. They don’t need exemptions, they need additional oversight and training. Taxis survived just fine before cell phones.

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    • David March 23, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      Mike if by “left hooked” you mean turned left at an intersection, then maybe you should learn how to stop at stop signs and not run red lights. You all would be much safer that way.
      Sho – So your driver was falling asleep while typing and driving? I doubt that. Anything to make a point.
      Think about this, a taxi drivers drives over 1000 miles a week, more like 1500 miles. Thats 6 times more than an average driver. Most, not all, taxi drivers have fewer tickets and accidents in a given year that an average driver. That to me says a taxi driver driver is 6 times less likely to drive unsafely than an average driver. 6 times safer. 3 tickets in a year mean no job for a taxi driver. Thats 3 tickets in 78000 miles on the road. Average driver drives that many miles in 6 years. So a taxi driver should be 6 times more likely to get a ticket. They arent getting tickets 6 times faster than average, including personal driving which also counts. So you bias that taxi drivers are crazy unsafe drivers does not measure up to reality. You may see taxis driving unsafely, but thats because you are watching, they are easy to spot, and have big numbers for you to call and complain to on the side. In reality, its the non-taxis that you have to look out for. The people who dont rely on their ability to drive to pay for food and housing. The huge number of people on the road with no license and no insurance that could care less what they run into, are far more likely to cause an accident than the guy who knows that if he gets a couple of tickets he will be out of a job and unable to support his kids. There is no worker comp, or disability insurance for taxi drivers. No unemployment if they lose their job since they are contractors and not employees. Wreck a taxi and the money comes out of their pocket since the insurance for taxis only covers the car that is hit and the passengers in each car, but NOT the taxi driver. Why driver unsafe when you know these things will effect your future?
      Dont want to get hit? Stop at stop signs and lights. Dont ride off the sidewalk into traffic. Remember cages have blindspots and sometimes you are in them.

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      • PapaD March 24, 2013 at 9:34 pm

        You don’t know what a “left hook” is. This is a left hook: You are proceeding straight through an intersection. Someone in the oncoming lane turns left into you. Good luck trying to justify this behavior. I’m not sure what you thought “left hook” meant or how using only the words Mike expressed, interpreted him as running a stop sign or red light.

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      • Bill Walters March 25, 2013 at 9:47 am

        David, you seem to imply that all potential left- and right-turn sites are at intersections governed by lights or signs. You know this is far from true. (Or if you don’t, you have no business at the wheel of a cab or any other motor vehicle.)

        Interesting point about cabs being blamed too heavily simply because they look different. That’s about the size of it for bike commuters, too—which means you’re both speaking out against bigotry and also propagating it. Ironic, no?

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      • nathan March 25, 2013 at 9:55 am

        Go away. Thanks!

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  • Joe March 22, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I can tell this is already happening downtown portland, kinda scary when I see a Taxi. lol

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  • Andyc of Linnton March 22, 2013 at 9:13 am

    How about for everybody’s benefit, we actually enforce the cell phone laws, and then say something like this:
    “These are people who are struggling and their livings are made by whether or not they can safely get around town… This is their life. If we can give them a little bit of safety and infrastructure to put a little more money in their pockets to take home with their families, then we should do that.”

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    • Kristen March 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

      I’m confused as to what that little “taxi drivers’ livelihood” speech has to do with cell phones at all.

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  • Stretchy March 22, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Portland issues a limited number of Taxi medallions. There is not increasing pressure to make ends meet because the city has regulated away cabbies competition.

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  • nrdbomber March 22, 2013 at 9:23 am

    …sweet, now I can ride my pedicab and talk on my cell! *enter sarcasm here*

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  • Jayson March 22, 2013 at 9:26 am

    ‘Senators in favor of the bill also spoke to the fact that taxicab drivers are “well-trained and high-regulated professionals.”‘

    That’s complete and utter BS. I have rarely felt safe in a cab. In fact they’re notorious for bad driving! Even other drivers recognize that taxi drivers are crazy on the road. They have someone in the back seat yelling at them to drive faster and meet a deadline, so they do. Republicans are a strange people.. and so is Chip Shields.. WTF

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  • K'Tesh March 22, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Larry George is really gaining ground on becoming the worst elected official in the state of Oregon. Way to go Larry! What other bad ideas do you have in that empty skull of yours? Legalizing Death Races?

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  • Elliot March 22, 2013 at 9:35 am

    I had a woman drive through a stop sign in front of me last year. I slammed on the brakes and yelled, and she was oblivious. I caught up to her at the next block and asked her if she noticed that she’d ran a stop sign. She was texting on her cell in her lap. I told her it was illegal, and, case in point, it had caused her to miss a stop sign. She insisted that it was fine because she was texting for work.

    This is exactly why we have to draw a hard line for distracted driving. Otherwise the line of thinking goes: ok to use cell –> ok to drive distracted –> ok to break the law and endanger others.

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  • Zaphod March 22, 2013 at 9:45 am

    This is pathetic.
    We, as a society, can do better.
    This angers and saddens me.

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  • Sean S. March 22, 2013 at 10:05 am

    They already have MDT’s in some of the cabs providing enough distraction.
    Adding cell ph

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    • Sean S. March 22, 2013 at 10:08 am

      – weird – cut off my comment.
      Adding cell phones will make their driving worse. I’ve recently filed a complaint against a radio cab operator for driving out of his lane (and into mine) while on the MDT.

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  • GlowBoy March 22, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Although most people don’t seem to have figured this out yet, talking on a telephone IS fundamentally different from talking on an old-fashioned two-way radio where you push the button to talk. The latter allows for long pauses between each person talking, for instance while the one driving a vehicle deals with what they’re doing on the road. Phones don’t work that way. They demand full, uninterrupted attention to the conversation, in a way that traditional radios do not. And THAT is why they are dangerous.

    That is also why handsfree phones are nearly as dangerous as handhelds, even though the current ban only applies to handhelds (which of course is an enormous windfall for sellers of handsfree devices). It’s not the act of holding something in your hand that is dangerous: am I also a menace to everyone on the road, oblivious to those I’m endangering, if I drive down the street eating a candy bar? Of course not. It is the act of engaging in a telephone conversation – on ANY device – that is incompatible with safe driving.

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  • Jonathan Gordon March 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Chip Shields is not the progressive politician I once thought he was. I learned that here first.

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  • Anthony March 22, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Way to go Chip! Giving me more and more reasons to vote for anyone else at re-election.

    Also, way to continue to legitimize talking on one’s cellphone and driving for the rest of the idiotic public! 50% of people I see driving are already doing this. If most of the other people they see on the road are doing it too, then they’re only going to feel more okay doing it…especially since there seems to be little to no enforcement.

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  • Anthony March 22, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Way to go Chip! Giving me more and more reasons to vote for anyone else at re-election.

    Also, way to continue to legitimize talking on one’s cellphone and driving for the rest of the motorists out there! 50% of people I see driving are already doing this. If most of the other people they see on the road are doing it too, then they’re only going to feel more okay doing it…especially since there seems to be little to no enforcement.

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  • dwainedibbly March 22, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Next loophole will be for realtors.

    If something is legal does that mean it isn’t negligent? Perhaps the only thing that will dscourage this are some huge civil suits when something bad happens.

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  • Sho March 22, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    They don’t obey any traffic laws already so why not just start making them exempt to typical laws, its not like they drive for a living with the lives of others in their hands. Heck the last cabbie I had here was falling asleep behind the wheel and started going into oncoming traffic while trying to type the address into his gps. I also love when they double park in a lane of traffic but why not since the PD don’t enforce it.

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  • lyle w. March 22, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Why would a bluetooth set-up be such an imposition on a taxi driver, to the point where these legislators have to write up a bill specifically for the purposes of weakening the cell-phone ban and absolving them from it? I don’t get it.

    The cell-phone ban is a joke to begin with. Stand on any busy street corner and just count the percentage of people who drive buy who either have a phone to their ear, held up part-way to their face or are peering down frequently to their lap. I don’t buy for a second that the cops (at least in inner-portland) have any interest or motivation in enforcing the ban.

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  • wsbob March 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    “…By a vote of 19-11, the Senate passed a bill that adds yet another exception to the state’s existing cell phone law. …” maus/bikeportland

    It’s not law yet. Before it becomes law, House has to vote on it, and then the Governor.

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  • Paul Cone March 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Are these the same “well-trained and high-regulated professionals” who I routinely see right-hooking people on SW Broadway?

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  • Dan March 22, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Yeah, given that those cell phone conversations in my experience are NOT WITH DISPATCH, I don’t see why there’s any reason to make an exception for cabbies.

    I catch cabs to the airport pretty frequently, and in my experience, Radio Cab is _by far_ the best cab company in Portland. I’ve never had the reckless driving and disregard for traffic laws in a Radio Cab that I consistently see from other cab companies…and they do not spend the whole drive making social calls on their phone, unlike cabbies with other companies.

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  • davemess March 22, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Anyone else find it odd/ironic that this bill is brought up by a guy from a rural county? How many cabs are operating out of Yamhill county?

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  • grimm March 22, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I can see exemptions for people in charge of public safety… ironically. But not a commercial interest. Invest in a newer technology or make your employees buy a bluetooth headset.

    If cabs are scrapping by it’s because the increased competition from Car2Go.

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  • Dabby March 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Taxi drivers are radio dispatched and really have no need for cell phones. The office can take care of any calls and radio the info.
    Taxi drivers are already huge violator’s of road rules.
    Let’s not give them more power to pay less attention.

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  • Cascadia Cyclcist March 22, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    You can get a Bluetooth earpiece for $20 these days. There is absolutely NO excuse for not owning one if you drive for a living.

    And Chip Shields again? Huh.

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  • gutterbunny March 22, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I was a cab driver 15 years ago and both the Portland big boys are dispatched through on board computer systems now a days (I was their when Radio started making the switch from radio,to text dispatch, and then to on board computer dispatch – and Broadway was doing the same thing at the same time). The smaller outfits are probably still done through CB or cel phone.

    The cel phone was (and still I assume) used for personal fares. There are lots of people that use cabs often and when I drove I had my own drunks, bar tenders, dj’s, dancers, and business people that found it faster, easier or was just more comfortable for them dealing with someone they knew to just call me directly instead of waiting for dispatch and an available cab (with who know who driving) once dispatched (especially on a busy night).

    I get the exemption (makes more sense than ham radio operators), but realize that the cabbies that would be the most active cel phone users are the ones that are most likely the better more professional drivers (you know the ones you don’t notice – sorta like cyclists). Because those of us that worked mostly on personals got to do so by being clean, respectable, and safe. And I doubt very much that it is any different today.

    And on a side note, I know that like all professions there are good and bad examples, but I actually really liked the job. One the greatest satisfactions that I had in doing it was knowing that I was actively making the streets safer. Unlike a cop – who could only act after an incident, I was preventing accidents. I can only guess at the number of accidents and deaths I prevented in my 6 years by keeping those that were too drunk or stoned to drive off the roads. Especially since I was night driver.

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    • wsbob March 22, 2013 at 11:57 pm

      “…realize that the cabbies that would be the most active cel phone users are the ones that are most likely the better more professional drivers (you know the ones you don’t notice – sorta like cyclists). …” gutterbunny

      You seem to be suggesting the only calls cabbies would be making or receiving while the cab was in motion, under the law revised by this bill, would be for booking personal fares. If that were true, people may not be so worried.

      Unfortunately, cell phone use by people driving motor vehicles…and people riding bikes for that matter, often tends to be horribly misused for a plethora of entertainment and social diversions. If some way occurred to you, that could block all but calls for the purpose of booking personal fares, and could be entered into the text of the bill legislators are working on, as a viable restraint against cell phone misuse, maybe that would be an idea that could support passage of the bill.

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  • TOM March 23, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Soo, its OKAY to compromise safety to help a small groups bottom line ? I get that cops/firemen should be exempt, but cabbies ? Oregon & Wash. pols seem to be on a race for the bottom/dumbest new laws. Many seem to propose this crap and then excuse it saying “oh, it was only meant to start a dialogue”
    Geeze, that’s when my driving is worst..when looking for an unfamiliar address ….and pulling over to call impacts profit ?
    We were in Asia a while back, in a lost cab …even THEY pulled over to talk on the cell , and there seemed to be no traffic rules there. Just common sense.

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  • Todd Boulanger March 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    A suggestion…with this and the other “work related” permissions to allow the use of a mobile phone while driving…given what is now know about its effect on distracted driving and driver’s ability to process information, then there should be text in the law shifting more of the “fault” for the crash / incident to the driver legally using such a communications device vs. neutral or no fault.

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  • Don J March 25, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Asinine. We all seemed to get along just fine 10-15 years ago without smartphones glued to our ear 24/7. This law isn’t going to break the bank for cabbies. Or anyone else for that matter (I’m pretty sure when I see police driving around chatting it up on their cell’s that it probably isn’t “work related”). Instead of making it easier for more and more folk to do this because it’s “work related”, let’s demand that fines increase (dramatically, like $1000 for 1st offense), and make it permissible for ONLY EMS/ Police to be on the horn, on the road. I don’t even buy into the utilities argument, because if it’s such a dire emergency that they need to answer a call while driving, they probably have another worker in the passenger seat that can handle the call.

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  • Justin R November 1, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    I am a cab driver in a small college town. We are not busy enough to have a dispatcher taking calls so we must answer the phone ourselves in order to know where customers need to be picked up. Finding a spot to pull over before the phone stops ringing would be impossible and actually more dangerous than just answering the thing. I think cab drivers should be exempt from cell phone laws but should be held accountable for their driving. The only people who really get upset about me using my phone while driving are obnoxious/aggresive drunk people. Just let me do my job.

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  • Eric Arbak September 12, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    I am a long time electrician, avionics technician and Ham radio operator. Twice in the past I alerted authorities from report situations from remote areas where no cell service was available. The last time I got pulled over by the State police, I watched the officer call in my plate in my rear view mirror before he turned on the flashing lights. I was pulled over for the date tag on the trailer I was towing was being was obstructed by the license plate frame. What is the difference from me calling in to help a stranger and what the officer was doing in line of duty???? Ke7zsn

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