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Ask BikePortland: What should I do when I see people using phones while driving?

Posted by on August 1st, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Should you say something?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Funny how things work out some times: A reader emailed me a few hours ago wondering what she should do when she sees people using phones while driving. Then a few minutes ago I read a news story about the exact same situation.

The situation is this: When bicycling, it’s very easy to see inside people’s cars as you ride by. That means people who ride bikes witness an awful lot of people using phones while driving. For anyone that knows the carnage distracted driving accounts for on our streets, this is a disturbing phenomenon. Using a cell phone while driving is both highly dangerous to yourself and those around you, and it also shows blatant disregard of Oregon traffic law. (As an aside, this ease of seeing drivers on cell phones while biking is why I’ve advocated for the police to use bike patrol officers to do cell phone law enforcement stings. So far, they haven’t taken me up on the idea).

Reader Kim I. emailed us wondering what to do (if anything) after witnessing such behavior. Here’s her email:

“I am a daily bike commuter in Portland. Over the last few weeks during my morning or evening commute, I have observed drivers texting on mobile phones as I passed them. It is probably no surprise to you that it evokes anger for me… I am appalled that someone can be so careless. On at least three occasions I have caught the texting drivers’ attention and chided them. Invariably, they smile and blow me off. I find this frustrating (and I feel foolish), yet if I remain a mute witness to this behavior, it is equally frustrating. Is there anything a citizen can do? I wonder if others in the bike community have any suggestions.”

Just an hour or so after reading that email, I came across this story via KOMO News up in Seattle: Police: Driver rams pedestrian for telling her to hang up and drive:

“… a female driver talking on a cellphone intentionally rammed a pedestrian after he signaled for her to hang up and drive Monday afternoon… the victim was crossing Fifth Avenue South and South King Street in the crosswalk around 12:50 p.m. when he indicated to a woman driving a silver Honda Civic that she should hang up her phone… The suspect reacted poorly to being scolded and pulled forward, intentionally ramming the victim with her car, according to the report… The victim told officers the suspect hit him in the knees with her car twice more while laughing and yelling that he wasn’t an officer before driving off.”

So does that answer Kim’s question? Is it better to just stay silent when you see people using phones in their car? I’ve often wondered this myself.

One thing we’ve seen over the years — and what this Seattle incident clearly illustrates — is that trying to communicate with another road user about their behavior is an extremely dicey proposition. It can end up going very well, but it can also end up deteriorating quickly. Emotions rule in these situation and I don’t know of any adults who take kindly to lectures about their behavior from friends and relatives, much less complete strangers.

In the end, I’d urge a compromise between verbal engagement and doing nothing. Perhaps the best thing is to come up with a good hand gesture (not the middle finger) or facial expression that shows your disapproval and gets your point across. Does anyone have other tips? What do you do?

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  • Blake August 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    What about cyclists who ride while taking on their phones? Not minimizing issue of drivers talking/texting while driving, but I’ve seen many cyclists who do it also, which is equally unsafe and when they are riding in front of me or heading towards me, potentially a safety issue for me as well.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 1, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      That’s a good question. I agree that’s an issue, but not even close in terms of threats to public safety. It’s also not crystal clear whether Oregon law prohibits the use of phones while biking.

      And the rate at which I see people using phones while biking is very very low compared to folks in cars. (In the Netherlands and Copenhagen it’s a different story! Tons of people bike while using phones over there.)

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    • A.K. August 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      The few times I’ve tried to correct other cyclists I’ve either been ignored as they continued on their way, or called nice names like “fucking faggot”.

      So it generally does not go well. I just keep my mouth shut now. That goes double for people in cars, as something about driving makes people want to RAGE (gee, wonder why?).

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      • was carless August 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm

        Yeah, I’d say that if you are going to challenge other citizens’ illegal actions, you should be armed and prepared to use deadly force. And, since that is illegal in Oregon (we do not have a stand-your-ground law), I would not recommend it. Unless you are law enforcement…

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        • spare_wheel August 1, 2013 at 10:13 pm

          i’ve been challenging dangerous behavior on roads for decades and have never come close to being threatened. all my near misses are due to obliviousness and/or narcissism — not malicious intent.

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        • Chase August 2, 2013 at 4:18 pm

          As of 2007, there is no “duty to retreat” in Oregon, according to the Oregon Supreme Court.

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    • David August 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      “which is equally unsafe”

      You can’t be serious.

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    • Ron August 1, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Equally unsafe???

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  • Nick August 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    I mostly encounter this while I’m walking in a crosswalk and the person stopped at the light is on their phone.

    I scolded a man once, and he sheepishly put the phone down (but clearly didn’t hang up, so he probably just resumed after I looked away).

    Just yesterday, a woman was on the phone, and I was about to say something, but there was some traffic commotion that made me look the other way and I just ended up doing nothing.

    I also feel the dilemma between being confrontational (but maybe saving someone’s life or limb) and avoiding confrontation. It’s a tough choice.

    It goes much deeper, to car culture, routine disregard for traffic laws, and the acceptance of the collateral damage. I just don’t see a clear fix. It’s all so broken.

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  • Alex Reed August 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Yeah, I have a little “hanging up the phone” gesture. I would give anyone I saw driving with an open can of beer a piece of my mind. So, given that driving while talking on the phone is just as dangerous as driving drunk, I want to at least let drivers know that it’s socially unacceptable even if I may not change that particular driver’s mind in the few seconds we have to interact.

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    • LoveDoctor August 1, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      I do the same thing. I know it’s perhaps not the smartest thing given that some people are prone to the rage, but I figure a small gesture of peer pressure might slowly change a few minds.

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    • lazyofay August 1, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      I will pit my drunk driving skills against anyone driving while talking, texting or Google mapping their bistro choice…
      I believe that electronic devices in cars are the absolute worst social acceptance of human behavior on the road in the past 30 years.
      It is hard enough to just tune a radio while driving, let alone all the crazy crap people are allowed to do now.
      If victims can litigate in reverse to find my bartender guilty of over serving me before I drive off into the night, why are we not be able to sue Google when people use in-dash on board devices?
      Color me Luddite.

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  • Indy August 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Film them with a head-cam and write down their license plate, and put it on youtube. Ask Portland Police to do their jobs?

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  • J_R August 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Scofflaw motorists!

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  • Stephanie B August 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    You can write a ticket yourself. Commuting columnist Joseph Rose covered this topic at length in a 2012 column:

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    • Tom Moore August 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Citizen Prosecution of Dangerous Drivers:
      A Users’ Guide on How Others Have Done It and How You Can Do It for Yourself

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    • Craig Harlow August 1, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Yep. Before you say a word or make a motion toward the person on the phone…

      Whip our your camera phone, do your record a video of the driver on the phone, as much of a face close-up as you can, and catch the license plate too. Then start your C.I.C. proceeding 🙂

      STC Law makes it even easier with their “Citizen Prosecution of Dangerous Drivers: A Users’ Guide on How Others Have Done It and How You Can Do It for Yourself”

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    • Nick August 2, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Exactly. Oregon allows for citizens’ arrests. Submit complaint to your local PD.

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  • Amelie August 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    I politely tap on their windows with the barrel of my pistol.

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    • JebJeb August 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      I know it was said jokingly, but what would it take for THEM to fear US? We cower on the sidewalks, and we are not safe there.

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      • spare_wheel August 2, 2013 at 8:33 pm

        they do fear us but you won’t realize this if you are cowering.

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  • GlowBoy August 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Although people yakking on phones annoys me and is dangerous, I usually let it go. What’s far more dangerous is texting or otherwise fussing with the screen on a smartphone. I’m not one to call out garden variety stupid crap that people do, but texting while wielding a multi-ton deadly weapon as as dangerous as drunk driving and I WILL say something if I have a chance.

    A couple years ago I confronted a 30s age guy I’d been following who was driving down the street blatantly watching a video on his phone. He was pretty contrite about it and apologized.

    But more often, people get angrily defensive and scream F-words back, as if they have an entitlement to do drive down the road without looking at it. For some reason I’ve particularly gotten this reaction when the texter is a young woman. YMMV.

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  • was carless August 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    I would strongly recommend not doing anything. Two times I have said something to drivers talking on the phone while driving as a pedestrian, and both times they physically tried to ram me with their cars. The second time, a cabbie in NW Portland pulled a gun on me after missing me with his car and stopping.

    So, unless you have a death wish, I don’t recommend doing anything! Unless, of course, you have ultra ninja skills and a rocket launcher. Then, maybe.

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  • tnash August 1, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    As long as the Portland cyclists continue to live up to their stereotype as being pissy and judgemental towards all other beings, we’ll be ok. I do like Jonathon’s addendum “while avoiding physical harm to their beings”

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  • Steven Soto August 1, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Yesterday, a driver passed me while texting, and he subsequently had to lock up to avoid rear-ending a stopped car in front of him. Gave him a thumbs down as I passed.

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  • Bruno August 1, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I saw this just last night ona ride with my wife and daughter. This youngish girl almost blew the intersection just prior to us going through (we had the green) and was blatantly on the phone, I made the “hang up the phone” hand sign while mouthing hang up, she gave me a dirty look as we went by. I’m not too concerned ablot confrontations, I’m 6’4 and about 275, that will usually end a confrontation right there.

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  • Anne Hawley August 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    So…yelling “GET OFF THE F***ING PHONE” is not advisable, then? Darn.

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  • Chris I August 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    If they aren’t creating an obvious hazard (failure to maintain lane of travel, failure to obey traffic control device, etc), don’t do anything. Calling out others, particularly minor offenses, rarely ends well. The last thing we need are a bunch of cyclists riding around town telling drivers what to do.

    That said, I have yelled at drivers before. A guy that turned right on red while I had a bike-only green signal: I yelled and pointed at the “no turn on red” sign. The dude that was sitting at a red light texting: why would I say anything?

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  • KD August 1, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    I would be the first, second and last person to verbally confront people that are texting while driving. Having my unfortunate share of threatening gestures with a 2,000 lb vehicle in response, I would advocate for using video to catch them in the act then self report. If you’re filming them texting, and *then* they get cranky and try to run you off the road, you have your video of road rage / hit-and-run incident to go with it. (Hopefully NOT the latter).

    Most times a dirty look suffices – I give stink eye like no other.

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  • spencer August 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    I say “PUT THE PHONE DOWN!”, and it usually ends there, but I have more colorful language when the need arises. I engage EVERY person withe a phone, Its unacceptable behavior, JUST AS BAD AS BEING DRUNK OR HIGH.

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  • tonyt
    tonyt August 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    I would remind people who think we’re being busy body-ish regarding this offense, that driving while talking on the phone, with or without a headset, is as statistically dangerous as drunken driving. Some studies suggest it is actually even more dangerous. And as people who ride bikes, we are THAT much more vulnerable to life threatening injury from the collisions that result from distracted driving.

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  • Patrick August 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    If I can, I just stop, rest my arms on my handlebars & STARE. I say nothing and just stare until they go. I use this same tactic for parents being mean to thier kids, or other behavior that they would NOT do if they were being witnessed. Whatever happens, I don’t expect good behavior at the moment but make a situation that MAY make them think in the future.

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  • merlin August 1, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    I was a passenger in a car on the freeway the other day when I saw a man talking on a cell phone while merging into freeway traffic. His car had a sticker on the back saying, “How’s my driving?” and giving a phone number and an identification number for the car. Five minutes later he was still on the phone – so I called. Anonymously. That felt good.

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  • Patrick August 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    When I see bicyclists yakking on the phone, I just say “Baaad Example.”

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  • dmc August 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    I would support a universal hand gesture that is neutral in nature for “please hang up and drive” or “please pull over and chat”.

    Someone make some illustrations and lets get these circulated through social media!

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    • Alex Reed August 1, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      Mine starts with the “on the phone” gesture (fist with thumb and pinky finger extended, thumb to the ear, pinky finger to the mouth) then “hangs up” the pretend phone.

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      • Alexis August 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm

        Mine too. I usually haven’t gotten more than a “Who do you think you are?” look out of this. I don’t think it helps, though. It’s rare for anyone to hang up. I think the only actual solution is for the police to enforce this law, and the many others that are commonly violated.

        People do something 9 times safely, and they start thinking they are on a roll or it must not really be that dangerous, and the 99th time they get in an accident. Humans are stupid about risk when the danger is in the aggregate. (This pretty much applies to all traffic violations, by any mode.)

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        • gutterbunnybikes August 1, 2013 at 8:51 pm

          Why use two fingers when really one big one would suffice?

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        • lyle w. August 2, 2013 at 12:33 pm

          Good point. Unfortunately that’s what perpetuates drunk driving, too. You do it once, you get away with it… you do it twice, three times, five times, twenty times. You can easily convince yourself that you’re okay if you don’t get too drunk. And then on the 200th time, that person it going through the crosswalk and the sun’s at just the right angle, and boom.

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  • deborah schultz August 1, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    When i first started riding I’d yell at people loudly. Luckily no one retaliated. It was (and still is) a HUGE pet peeve. Though I found that most on their phones are so checked out of actual driving that they aren’t even aware when people are yelling at them.

    When they passed the cellphone law I thought it would be an amazing new world. Sadly there’s been absolutely no difference. Seems like easily 30-50% of the people I look at in their cars are on their phones. I can almost tell who is and isn’t just based on how bad their driving is.

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  • Sunny August 1, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I’d probably try to sell them a hands free device or something.

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  • BikeEverywhere August 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I had two separate, recent incidents where I was nearly killed by someone texting while driving. Then last week I was riding during rush hour and saw a driver weaving in and out of the bike lane while moving. When I caught up to her at a red light, sure enough, she was texting. I am really tired of risking my life because someone thinks their OMGs and LOLs are more important than the safety of everyone else on the road! We need to be asking our local PDs about their action plan for reducing this risky behavior, and letting them know what we are seeing out on the road from a cyclist’s eyes.

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  • Chris Sanderson August 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Isn’t there some kind of sticker that we can all be armed with that we can slap on their window, reminding them that what they are doing is dangerous? Doesn’t Microcosm Publishing have something witty and poignant that they can sell or give to us to slap on cars? Hmmmm… just thinking out loud.

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  • Ben August 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    If it really bothers you, and you feel they need to put their phone down right away. You can let them know if they do not put their phone away you will call the police. I imagine just saying that will get their attention.

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  • Granpa August 1, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    This is one issue that you young whippersnappers and I agree upon. LEOs need to enforce this law!

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    • Ben August 1, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      They will NOT enforce this law until someone dies from a motorist using their cell phone while driving. It will also need to make big news. Then there will some ‘cracking down’ on this.

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      • GlowBoy August 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm

        No, that won’t cause them to crack down, because it’s already happening. Probably hundreds, if not thousands, of road fatalities every year are due to distracted driving, but it’s incredibly difficult to collect direct statistics on it — let alone prove it in a court of law.

        I don’t think Jim Price’s death (to mention one prominent cyclist) a few years ago in Colorado has resulted in massive, lasting enforcement action.

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      • Alex Reed August 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm

        A number of people have already died from this. According to , at least 4 people had been killed by cell phone users in Oregon as of last November. It’s the ‘making big news’ part that’s the issue – motor vehicle collisions almost never do (and often the news focus is the resultant traffic, not the casualties).

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      • Granpa August 1, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        Distracted drivers are already killed, killing others and crippling others, It will take a massive class action lawsuit that hammers service providers before the issue is addressed. Law suits are the new rules enforcers. Police are understaffed, overworked and can only prioritize the issues that immediately result in personal injury. I wish that a similar massive law suit hits the car companies that put computers that provide distractions in their cars. I have nothing against cars or drivers, but cars should be vehicles for transportation, not entertainment centers or mobile offices. There is lots to pay attention to when driving and drivers engage in a social compact to pay attention when the get behind the wheel. Don’t get me started………………..

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        • gutterbunnybikes August 1, 2013 at 8:54 pm

          Hard to crack down on it when there have been soooooo many exceptions made for some to use the phone while driving.

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  • Sunny August 1, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Ride in front of the offending car and talk loudly into your shoe, oblivious to the shouting cell phone yapper in the car trying to get you out of the way.

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    • Opus the Poet August 2, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      That one only works when your name is Maxwell Smart… and last I saw he was driving a Sunbeam Tiger (really tiny car with a big American V8 from the ’60s).

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  • Drew August 1, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    San Francisco Public health ambulances sported “hang up and drive” bumper stickers when I lived ther 10 years ago. I gets old fast responding to crashes caused by distracted drivers and cleaning up their carnage. I was attending a patient when someone on a phone rear ended my ambulance; my patient and I were okay but we had to get another ambulance to haul him off to the hospital.

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  • dwainedibbly August 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Balloon full of milk to the windshield?

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  • merlin August 1, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    I was rear-ended several years ago. My car was totaled, but I was ok, just shook up. When I got out of my car to discuss the incident with the other driver, she was busy talking on her phone and didn’t hang up and come out to talk to me for several minutes. It wasn’t until much later that realized she had probably been talking on the phone when she hit me.

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  • anon August 1, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    1) carry an air horn on your bike which you can pick up and aim.
    2) if extremely mad, use a cell phone jammer

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  • Adam August 1, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    I have a funny story about a cell phone motorist: a friend of mine saw someone talking on their cell phone while driving. They were stopped at a light, and this friend signaled urgently for them to wind down their window, which they did. This friend then took a carton of chocolate milk, crushed it in his hand, and poured it over the motorists’ head.

    Lesson learned. I have always wanted to carry around multiple containers of chocolate milk since then.

    What I actually do is get out my cell phone, and make a big show of snapping their licence plate, and their face with my camera phone. This act tends to get a certain number of drivers to hang up.

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  • Pat Franz August 1, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    I cross SE Powell every day. I would say 1 out of 8 drivers is obviously on the phone.

    And what is it with the about 1 out of 3 of them that is chatting away, holding the phone out away from their head? Do they think putting it on speakerphone is better somehow? Or that it doesn’t look like they are on the phone? Or are they all watching videos while talking on the phone and driving?

    I don’t want to find out the hard way, I just want to cross the street.

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    • davemess August 2, 2013 at 7:11 am

      Doesn’t that make it legal though?

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      • A.K. August 2, 2013 at 9:57 am

        No way. It’s “hands free”, not “away from ear free”.

        It’s only legal if you’re using a Bluetooth ear piece or other speaker system.

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  • Pat Franz August 1, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Another couple thoughts-

    How about a nonprofit website where you can post photos/videos and they will make sure the local authorities and the insurance companies get the information… a bit Big Brother-ish, but if you had to certify the photo it would weed out the scammers. I’ll bet certain license plates/drivers would show up a disproportionate amount of the time, and to not take action given that information would be hard to defend.

    Or people could take a class and become a deputized traffic watcher. The cops/courts would be required to take their calls seriously and would take things from there. Someone needs to be the eyes out there, the police can’t make a dent the way things are now. Yes, you can file your own ticket, but it’s not something enough people are willing to take on, and there’s no built in protection from pissed off drivers.

    Other ideas?

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    • Kevin Wagoner August 1, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      This is a good idea. My wife shared this idea to me the other month. She thinks if your phone is moving more than ‘x’ miles per hour that a pop up message should come up asking something like, “Are you driving?” If you answer “No” then you have an accident and it is determine you were driving at that time you lose your insurance. Or something like that. I like the idea of posting pics of these folks too, but taking a picture of someone might put you in a confrontational situation.

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  • justin August 1, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    mind yer own beeswax

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    • GlowBoy August 1, 2013 at 10:53 pm

      “mind yer own beeswax” -Justin

      Some of us remember that’s what people used to say about drunk driving, in the days before MADD.

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    • esther c August 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm

      It is our business to be able to use the streets without being run over by a distracted driver disobeying the law.

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  • Ted Buehler August 1, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    The model for fighting texting driving is MADD.

    From wikipedia:
    “Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a nonprofit organization in the United States that seeks to stop drunk driving, support those affected by drunk driving, prevent underage drinking, and overall push for stricter alcohol policy. The Irving, Texas–based organization was founded in 1980 in California by Candice Lightner after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver.[1] MADD claims that drunk driving has been cut in half since their founding.[2]”


    “Candice (Candy) Lightner is the organizer and was the founding president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. On May 3, 1980 Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunken hit-and-run driver at Sunset and New York Avenues in Fair Oaks, California. The 46-year-old driver, who had recently been arrested for another DUI hit-and-run, left her body at the scene.[1]”

    “The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.”[3]


    “:Generally MADD favors:
    * Education (about the dangers of drunk driving), advocacy and victim assistance
    * Strict policy in a variety of areas, including an illegal blood alcohol content of .08%[4] or lower and using stronger sanctions for DUI offenders, including mandatory jail sentences, treatment for alcoholism and other alcohol abuse issues, ignition interlock devices,[5] and license suspensions
    * Helping victims of drunk driving (this includes family members and other loved ones of both innocent victims and guilty impaired drivers)
    * Maintaining the minimum legal drinking age at 21 years
    * Mandating alcohol breath-testing ignition interlock devices (IIDs) for everyone convicted of driving while legally impaired”

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  • Kevin Wagoner August 1, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    I wish we had something more proactive to do.

    The other week I was riding up Barbur to the Terwilliger intersection. If traffic is thick (going south) I often get in the right turn lane and enter the cross walk on on Terwillerger to make a left turn. The other day a person plowed into the cross walk while looking at their phone in the far lane. This was not a problem for me as I don’t enter that last lane (Terwilliger right hand turn lane onto Barber), but they almost got the person walking across the lane. I made a hand jester indicating they should hang up their phone (Thumb near ear, pinky near lips…moving in a hang up mode). They proceeded to roll down their window and state rather roughly, “I wasn’t talking on my phone, I was looking at directions.” I disengaged, it was clear they weren’t interested in apologizing and it didn’t seem productive to offer any advice at that point.

    This is a more extreme example of what I see daily. As noted in the article I see folks on the phone every day. For the most part I make no jester besides giving them the stink eye. I wish there was a more proactive way to express displeasure.

    I personally propose we deputize these folks just like Andy did to Will in The Andy Griffith Show so Will could arrest himself every time he got drunk. These folks can write themselves a ticket every time they pick up the phone, send a tweet or look down for directions.

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    • spare_wheel August 1, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      if pursuing and “inconveniencing” dangerous motorists is not your thing, i strongly recommend the bird. its constitutionally-protected free speech and it feels good.

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  • Ted Buehler August 1, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I don’t know if there’s a Mothers Against Cell Phones or anything yet, but we can certainly take the initiative and learn from their experiences, and ask that the existing laws we have be enforced.

    It can be achieved with a small number of people and a bit of coordination. Here’s one example of how it could be ramped up the priority list of law enforcement.

    First, do a little homework:
    1) Spend an hour doing web searches of news stories, scientific research, analysis, etc. of how phones distract drivers. Print them out.
    2) Get the addresses of about 10 public officials who can mandate additional enforcement of existing laws (list below). And media sites.

    Next, throw a party:
    3) Get together with 10 of your friends, have them settle in for 90 minutes of letter-writing, with drinks and refreshments.
    4) Each friend writes a personal letter to each public official. Gives out personal anecdotes, references scientific studies, shares experiences, and asks for their commitment to enforcement of OR 811.507.

    This is a good start, and probably all you need to do next is:
    5) Find 10 passionate friends to throw their own parties. I suspect that if politicians, media and law enforcement got 100 well written letters over the course of a three months, they’d ramp up enforcement.

    Bam. Problem well on its way to being solved. If you’re still motivated, rinse and repeat every six months.
    6) Use your momentum to get a legislator to support new legislation to impound the cell phones of any person involved in a car crash. And report it in media releases, just like seat belt, alcohol blood levels, and bike helmets. If the NSA can track our calls all the time, I’d hope the local cops would have authority to track calls when it is actually warranted.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Ted Buehler August 1, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      Here’s who you write your 10 personal letters to:

      * Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.
      * Portland Police Chief Mike Reese

      * Multnomah County Commission chair Jeff Cogan
      * Your district County Comissioner
      * Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton (click “contact us” snail mail address on the right)

      * Governer Kitzhaber (snail mail address at the bottom)
      * Your state senator and rep.
      * Oregon State Police Superintendent Richard Evans
      * & also to the general State Police request email/snail mail address and

      * The Oregonian (letter to editor, choose your favorite aspect of the issue — enforcement, education, compassion, etc.) (snail mail address at the bottom).

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    • Kristi Finney-Dunn August 1, 2013 at 11:40 pm

      There is an organization called FocusDriven that is starting to make an impact. Like MADD, it was started by family members who lost a loved one… One of the victims featured on the map on the website is Gordon Patterson who was killed in a hit-and-run while biking home from work in Vancouver in September 2009. One of his own students was convicted of negligent homicide due to texting. Sadly, this guy appears to have learned nothing since he was recently arrested two months post-prison for cutting in front of a truck while driving on a suspended license and then eluding police. His mother didn’t learn anything either; she let him drive her car (this really offends me)… You may already know this story but maybe others don’t.

      I love your suggestions and always appreciate the links you provide to make following them easier. It would help if I were an Oregon resident, though.

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      • Ted Buehler August 2, 2013 at 2:03 am

        Kristi — if you ride a bike in Oregon on occasion, and are at risk of being turned into roadkill by Oregon drivers, then I suspect that you have a perfect right to make requests about Oregon law enforcement with whomever you like.

        Ted Buehler

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        • Ted Buehler August 2, 2013 at 2:06 am

          i.e. — send a letter to the governor of Oregon, explain that you live in Washington but ride your bike in Oregon, and think it would be a good idea to crack down on cell phone use and texting while driving. Shouldn’t be a problem that you’re not a constituent, and in fact your opinion as a nonresident would add yet another type of voice to the chorus.

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          • Kristi Finney-Dunn August 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm

            My son Dustin was killed 8/12/11 while riding his bike in a bike lane on Division. I speak at an average of at least 6 – usually 7 to 9 – DUII/High Risk Driver/Share the Road Safety classes per month in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Clark counties. I testified twice before the Oregon Legislature earlier this year about the need for increased penalties for injury hit-and-run (which are still waaaayyyy too lax). Plus assorted other things. But I want to do more, and as I already said, your suggestions and the resources you provide really help. Thank you! (I am taking some of August off, though, to grieve this 2nd year anniversary).

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            • Ryan August 3, 2013 at 6:11 am

              Thank you for speaking at all of these events. Your work is very important. Take it easy this month….and god bless you.

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  • Mike August 1, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I bet if you went to most major cities(portland not being in that category) and tattled on cell phone users you may just get your arse kicked. Here in portland it is common practice to correct people for any type of behavior you deem incorrect. Perhaps yelling at people doesn’t do anything but incite violence. Be aware of who you “correct” because it may end up with you getting a throat punch. Just sayin

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    • spare_wheel August 1, 2013 at 10:23 pm

      i’m not afraid of the people of wall-e.

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    • Ryan August 3, 2013 at 6:10 am

      People willing to do that are idiots. People like you describe is another reason my helmet is constantly recording hi def video.

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    • mike August 3, 2013 at 11:21 am

      Agreed. I nearly moved to Portland doing a job transfer. I’ve spent a lot of time in PDX and when I was house hunting I was “behavior corrected” twice in the same day and I decided that I really wasn’t interested in having people up my a** all the time so I stayed put. Imagine someone telling on or correcting cell behavior in NYC….

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      • spare_wheel August 3, 2013 at 5:03 pm

        People screaming things at each other in NYC traffic? Never happens.

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      • maxadders August 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm

        That’s the hallmark of personal interaction with strangers here– the delicious opportunity to say “You’re doin’ it wrong”

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      • Paul Johnson August 15, 2013 at 3:35 pm

        I’d be more concerned about the crippling cost of living and lack of paying jobs.

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    • Paul Johnson August 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Portland’s a violent enough city that you’re actually more likely to get throat punched keeping to yourself. I know this from personal experience.

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  • Pete August 2, 2013 at 1:34 am

    I tell them to hang up the phone…

    Unless, of course, they’re bigger than me! 😉

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  • q`Tzal August 2, 2013 at 1:45 am

    1) Aim helmet cam at driver
    2) blast Airzound
    3) when the driver looks at you point at the video camera

    Any interactions after that can easily be misinterpreted by an over-aggressive driver.
    It would be nice if we could use that video footage, which by design would have a profile and front view of the driver’s face, as solid evidence in a citizen’s initiated citation.

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    • Paul Johnson August 15, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      Is there anything louder than an airzound in the bike horn department? Portland’s a loud enough city that 120dB doesn’t get heard over the din.

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      • q`Tzal December 17, 2013 at 12:49 pm

        Keep your Airzound filled to 90psi.
        Expect substandard performance under 60psi in normal temperatures, as high as 80 psi in freezing and below.
        Most unscratched bottles will hold 125psi for over a month in a container that shields them from UV exposure. Club soda bottles are stronger by at least 20 psi; Sodastream’s reusable home carbonation bottles feel like they could hold 200psi when undamaged.

        I have not performed destructive testing on Sodastream’s bottles but the key is protecting any air vessel from UV and chemical degradation while scrupulously making sure there are no surface imperfections, even on the factory original bottle. The scratch is your worst enemy.

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  • JRB August 2, 2013 at 7:51 am

    I find that giving the mildly disdainful “really” stare to be the safer middle ground between being passive and being overtly confrontational. Just used it this morning on somebody who honked at me for taking the lane on Broadway to avoid the potential right hooks just past Flint.

    To Jonathan’s point, I find that my initial reaction to being called out for bad behavior in public is usually negative. Given a minute or two, or sometimes just a few seconds, however, I usually find myself admitting that I was being stupid. At least in my case, just because I react adversely in the moment doesn’t mean that someone’s approbation isn’t effective when I am capable of being more contemplative.

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  • Roger Averbeck August 2, 2013 at 9:55 am

    As a veteran volunteer PBOT bike counter at numerous busy arterial intersections during the PM peak, I am amazed at how many motor vehicle drivers are violating the law and holding their phone up to their ear, while in motion, not just stopped at a traffic light. It would be quite easy to set up a video camera and record this activity, including the license plate and driver in the act.

    I appreciate that PBOT and PPB have added this dimension (warnings and citations for distracted driving) to their crosswalk enforcement actions but this does not go far enough…

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    • Ryan August 3, 2013 at 6:13 am

      Cyclists with gopro cameras should be writig citien traffic complaints.

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  • dan August 2, 2013 at 10:09 am

    I’ve posted this link before, but…Korea’s approach of paying a bounty to people who submit video of criminal offenses seems rather relevant here.

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  • tnash August 2, 2013 at 11:59 am

    …and in phase 2, we can train our head-cams on traffic and narc on drivers with burned out lights, or speeding, or rolling through stop signs at 5mph. After all, they are Endangering everyone around them. Phase 3, we can narc on them for expired tags, throwing cigarette butts out of the window, dangerous cracks in their windshield. We can only dream of a day when the police start scanning faces of citizens for facial recognition, which would mean that we can start busting fellow cyclists for traffic violations, missing lights and cycling w/o a bell….oh, to dream.

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    • dan August 2, 2013 at 2:34 pm

      A surveilled society is a polite society! 😉
      (with apologies to the NRA)

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  • o/o August 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    just ignore and move on… sometimes it is not easy to do. once in awhile i act up if it is too close for comfort…

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  • halfwheel August 2, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
    That’s a good question. I agree that’s an issue, but not even close in terms of threats to public safety. It’s also not crystal clear whether Oregon law prohibits the use of phones while biking.

    Recommended 10

    Of course bicycles must follow the same rules as cars:

    “he number of bicycles being used on streets and highways is growing daily, both for exercise and transportation in city areas. The same traffic rules and regulations for vehicle drivers apply to bicyclists.”

    If its unclear to you, then why not set a good example as cyclist and hang up the phone while riding bikes?

    Most cycling organizations ban members from talking on cell phones already. Why? because its dangerous to other cyclists!

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  • Bicycle Dude August 2, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    While on business in San Francisco recently, I had a conversation with an attorney whose specialty was vehicular accidents. He said the first thing he does when representing a client, is subpoena phone records of all parties involved.

    Let’s hope the person who hits me isn’t using a phone or texting.

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  • Spiffy August 2, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I did something stupid while driving and got called on it by a cyclist… I said I was sorry and I got scolded for saying I was sorry…

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    • Patrick August 2, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Exactly my fear when I do drive.

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    • A.K. August 2, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      Reminds me of a time a year or so ago when I was driving behind a bus which suddenly stopped, leaving my car hanging back part-way into a crosswalk.

      Then the light changed, meaning people wanted to cross where my car was. I knew I had screwed up, but some guy starts SCREAMING at me while he was walking by, with serious anger in his face.

      I rolled down my window and said “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to!”, to which he replied “no you’re fucking not!”.

      It’s pretty funny when I look back on it…

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      • esther c August 3, 2013 at 12:23 pm

        The correct response to that arsehole would be a smile and a cheery wave and “have a nice day.” It would ruin his day that you hadn’t engaged him and he wasn’t able to piss you off.

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    • Paul Johnson August 15, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      Man, I do NOT miss the aggro-aggressive nature of Portland traffic.

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  • Ryan August 2, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I have a GoPro and Contour ROAM camera. I’m going to start taking stills from the video, with the license plate and face shot, and fill out Citizen traffic tickets. These carry the same financial disincentive to dangerous road behaviors as if a cop were to write them up. And with fines $500 for talking on the cellphone…..and my 2 hour RT commute Mon-Fri….who wants to bet I can’t end up writing $7000+ in tickets over the course of a month?

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  • mike August 2, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    What should you do?…..get over it? That sounds like a plan to me. I pedal 85% of the time and I’m well aware of all the distracted driving and the risk this has to my life but really….”What should I do?” Blaaaa! it’s like a full grown adult asking if they can go to the bathroom. figure it out adult, you decide what you should do; why do you have to ask someone? People are going to do whatever they damn well please so getting over it and getting use to it is a pretty good idea in my book. Sorry I seem a little harsh but I just get tired of people acting so helpless.

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  • Eric W August 2, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    I’m thinking ping pong paddle with “Hang Up!” on it.

    If it works I’ll add “Thanks – drive safely” to the back side…

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  • Opus the Poet August 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    When I tried to get to this article from a BikingInLA link the site was down (even Google bots couldn’t get on). It must have generated quite a lot of traffic.

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  • jim August 2, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    What should I do when I see a bike riding at night without a headlight? Should I call it in to the police? Should I pull them over? It is quite dangerous to have bikes riding at night with no headlights. What should I do?

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    • esther c August 4, 2013 at 7:13 pm

      You should shout “Please sir [or madam], you are lacking adequate and legally required nocturnal illumination. Please remedy the situation post haste so I will not be further distressed by your failure to comply!” And then give them a jaunty wave and a sort of faux tip o’ the hat since an actual one won’t be possible with a cycling helmet.

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    • q`Tzal August 5, 2013 at 5:26 am

      If you saw them without a light: don’t worry, you saw them, obviously they didn’t need a light.
      If you didn’t see them: we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.

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    • Spiffy August 6, 2013 at 9:49 am

      I wouldn’t consider that “quite dangerous” at all…

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    • Paul Johnson August 15, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      I usually have a few extra sets of lights to give people, Jim. Just my way of having some southern hospitality. Perhaps you should try that.

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  • Robin August 5, 2013 at 7:25 am

    Of course, it’s entirely possible to start and finish a (quick) phone conversation or text while completely stopped at a light. Especially some lights where you seem to be sitting for a couple of minutes. “Hi Honey, do you still need me to pick up the kids?” “Yes, dear.” “Thx bye!” Entire conversation: less than 10 seconds. Risk to others? Zero. Less danger than if they pulled off/on the road to make their call, crossing bike lanes of traffic. Particularly during rush hour.

    Maybe it would be better to pick battles with those who are *actually* endangering people by using mobile devices while in motion; if you pass someone on a cell phone who is stopped at a light, you don’t know if they started the conversation while in motion and if they’ll hang up before their foot is off the brake.

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    • BikeEverywhere August 5, 2013 at 7:32 am

      No, I’m sorry, but I disagree. If a car’s ignition is on and it is engaged in traffic, you are “driving”. Being stopped at a red light doesn’t legally give you the right to have your attention focused elsewhere, and remains a risk to those around you. Besides, it is extremely annoying to have to sit through multiple cycles of intersection lights because people aren’t looking at their phones and don’t realize the light has changed to green, holding up everyone else.

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    • Spiffy August 6, 2013 at 9:52 am

      not safe… the people with their heads down only have one thing in their peripheral vision, the light… as soon as it changes to green they hit the gas without looking… so if somebody is slow to cross and still in the crosswalk I’ve seen them almost get hit by somebody doing that… you have to pay attention to what’s ahead of you and you can’t do that while being on your phone…

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    • Dave Thomson August 7, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      Uh, you have never seen drivers suddenly realize that the light changed while they were staring at their lap and then proceed to hit the gas without taking time to actually look around? NOTHING you, your wife, husband, co-worker, boss, or pizza order taker has to say is more important than the lives of those around you. This will probably amaze you, but people drove around for almost a century without cell phones and survived just fine.

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  • BikeEverywhere August 5, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Sorry, that should have read, “because people ARE looking at their phones….”

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  • Jayson August 5, 2013 at 8:52 am

    As a bicyclist, I feel I already have a negative reaction from drivers from simply being on the road, so I don’t bother trying to correct this bad behavior. As a pedestrian, I feel a little bit more empowered and aggressive, but I still rarely correct. Strange, but true. Instead, I have learned to become extra careful and assume people aren’t looking out for me. Call it self preservation… I call it smart.

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  • Katie Taylor August 5, 2013 at 11:33 am

    I usually yell ‘heads up!’ when I see anyone pretending they can navigate the world by any means while absorbed in their smartphone. If it’s a person who looks like they might respond badly, I yell ‘heads up, honey!’ as if they were a child with inattentive parents who were about to let it run into an intersection. This is a strategy suggested by my sister, and I think it is brilliant. For some reason, a firm, clear, neutral tone, sometimes accompanied by a pet name, works like a charm. A British accent has worked for me in the past too. I think the reason both of these work is that they surprise people enough to keep their anger from heating up as fast as it might otherwise. Also, Americans are used to thinking of both mothers and British people as intrinsically non-threatening. I doubt ‘heads up, honey’ would work as well for a younger man, but the British accent probably would.

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    • Katie Taylor August 5, 2013 at 11:47 am

      The other reason I think ‘honey’ works is that it sounds like you are concerned about the person – which makes it harder for them to get angry. This strategy allows you to turn the phone user’s narcissism to your advantage.

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  • Editz August 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    I’ll bet that smartphones are intelligent enough to detect when they’re being used while moving at high speeds, so expect a new feature where they’re automatically disabled until whatever it is they’re riding in comes to a stop.

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    • Spiffy August 6, 2013 at 9:54 am

      on-board navigation already has that option… most systems let you press a button to ignore it…

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  • 007 August 5, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    How about, “You’re not in high school. Pay attention!”
    For babbling cyclists: grab their phone and toss it as far as you can. Only if you believe you can ride faster.

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  • DJ August 5, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    There’s one obvious approach to reducing cellphone use/texting while driving, which maddeningly is still not being adopted. The Oregon DOT and Portland BOT should be engaged in an all-out campaign to educate drivers not just about the law, but about the consequences (fines) for breaking it, and to sensitize them to the extremely high risk of this behavior. This is exactly the same approach that eventually stigmatized drunk driving and reduced DUI rates. Whether you call it social marketing, advertising, or driver education, THIS is the missing piece. The state law has already been adopted, and strengthened–but compliance is very low. Why, the, won’t our public officials take the necessary steps to actually PUBLICIZE the law and the consequences of breaking it?? And to anyone who says “there’s no money for this” in an age of austerity, I proposed this simple, no-cost solution: The electronic message boards on Interstates 5, 84, 205, and 405 (which are often blank), could easily be used to display messages telling drivers what the law it, and what it’ll cost you to break it. It’s already being done (at least on I-5 in WA) to scare drivers about DUI–why not the same for distracted driving??

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    • Paul Johnson August 15, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      I wonder why Oregon doesn’t use a points system like Oklahoma. We get bad drivers off the road after so many tickets. Oregon doesn’t.

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  • Paul Johnson August 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Moving out of the Pacific timezone helps. Preferably to someplace that has a middle class instead of a working poor and the 1% like Portland and the other west coast cities. Rich people can’t drive.

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  • E.A. October 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    As a person who has only recently moved to Oregon and has not yet gotten a new license… I had no idea about this law. I almost never drive my car. Back in Massachusetts, there was a lot of signage warning of the cell phone laws. It is totally my fault for answering my phone today while driving. A person riding a bike gesticulated at me to hang up and I thought it a bit odd. So, I looked up the laws when I got home. I wish there had been more signs and that I had read the DMV handbook sooner. I am grateful that the guy on the bike today was nice about the hand gesture. As a person who rides a bike almost every day, I have noticed the people on bikes here to be a bit aggressive toward people in cars and people on bikes. I was honestly afraid of what he might do to me when we were stopped at a stop sign.

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    • Paul Johnson October 8, 2013 at 5:12 pm

      Better take care of that quick. Unless you’re maintaining a household in Mass, if it’s been 30 days since you arrived in Oregon, you don’t have a valid driver’s license anymore.

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