Portland Century - August 18th

Oregon Senate votes (yet again) to let cabbies use hand-held phones while driving

Posted by on April 28th, 2015 at 10:54 am

Ride along in a Radio Cab-1

Should they be allowed to use phones while driving?
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

For the second legislative session in a row, the Oregon Senate has voted in favor of a bill that would allow taxicab operators to use hand-held cell phones while driving.

Oregon’s existing cell phone law (ORS 811.507) permits the use of hands-free mobile devices while driving, but taxi operators want to be added to the list of exceptions for hand-held phone use that already includes police officers, public safety workers, farm equipment operators, transit workers, public utility workers, tow truck operators, HAM radio operators, and others.

Senate Bill 167 passed by a vote of 18-12 last month (all 12 “no” votes were from Democrats). A similar bill passed the Senate in 2013, but failed to get a vote in the House.

At a Senate committee hearing for SB 167 in February, Darin Campbell, a lobbyist and driver for Portland-based Radio Cab who initiated the bill, said giving cabbies the ability to use their phones while driving is crucial to their business. While he estimated that around 90-95 percent of taxi drivers use bluetooth and wireless hands-free systems, the law still needs to change.

“The goal isn’t to allow someone to talk to their wife or mother in the car… It shouldn’t be a five minute phone call, it should be a 15-second phone call every great once-in-a-while.”
— Darin Campbell, Radio Cab lobbyist

“It’s the people that aren’t using that technology, and when it fails to work, that’s who we’re looking to cover with this change,” Campbell testified to lawmakers on the Senate Business and Transportation Committee back in February.

Campbell, whom I reached on the phone for an interview (yes, he was driving when we spoke), says it’s a straightforward bill that will make it easier for cab operators to find customers.

When asked about safety implications of the new law, Campbell told me he doesn’t think it’s much of an issue. “I just don’t see this being such an overwhelming increase in cell phone use outside of what it is now.” He added that as head of Radio Cab’s safety committee he reviews every collision their drivers are involved in. “In the last five years,” he said, “we haven’t had a single one related to cell phone use.”

Campbell also said cab drivers are experts at staying focused on the road. “Cab drivers are wired for distraction,” is how he put it. The way Campbell sees it, the bill is meant to give taxi drivers another tool to locate customers, not give them a green light to chat away while they navigate busy streets. “The goal isn’t to allow someone to talk to their wife or mother in the car… It shouldn’t be a five minute phone call, it should be a 15-second phone call every great once-in-a-while.”

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“But a taxicab driver could simply pull over to the side of the road and make his phone call if he doesn’t have the wireless device. I cannot support this.”
— Sen. Rod Monroe

But there’s no way law enforcement will know who the person is talking to or how long they’ve been on the phone.

“If drivers are going to take advantage of the law,” Campbell said “They’re doing it anyway right now.”

Interestingly, the bill didn’t pass in 2013 because some lawmakers in the House were uncomfortable with the idea of a cab operator talking on his or her cell phone while a passenger was in the back seat. That prompted an amendment to SB 167 which states that the law will not apply, “if there is a passenger in the taxicab.”

Turns out lawmakers identify with the risks of distracted driving when they imagine themselves riding in a cab with a cell-phone using driver. But what about other road users outside the car who might also be impacted by this law?

Senator Rod Monroe (D-Portland) voted against the bill. In the committee hearing he made his opinion very clear: “Driving while talking on a phone is a dangerous activity. Police, fire, perhaps maybe sometimes needs to do that… But a taxicab driver could simply pull over to the side of the road and make his phone call if he doesn’t have the wireless device. I cannot support this.”

The bill was sponsored by Senator Brian Boquist, a Republican from a rural district. In an email to BikePortland he said risks of distracted driving are decreasing as hands-free devices improve (according to NHTSA, it’s the talking that’s dangerous, not the use of hands). Boquist said the real risk is distracted police officers.

Although it was drafted prior to Portland’s experiment to allow Uber and Lyft, the law would likely not apply to those drivers because they are not yet clearly defined in statute.

Campbell says he’s confident the bill will pass this time around.

SB 167 is scheduled for a public hearing on April 29th in the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development.

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41 Comments
  • Avatar
    hat April 28, 2015 at 10:59 am

    It’s not the motor use that is the primary cause of collisions, it is the cognitive distraction. This understanding has been reinforced by a large body of research.

    https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/cognitive-distraction-and-the-hands-free-device-myth/

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    rainbike April 28, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Sigh. A loop-hole big enough to drive a taxi through…and a tractor…and a tow truck…and a bus…and a PGE service truck…and…

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      paikiala April 28, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Vision Zero for Oregon fail.

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    Kyle April 28, 2015 at 11:06 am

    The caption on the first image (“Should they be allowed to use phones while driving?”) makes me feel like this is an emotionally-provocative Oregonlive article.

    Not sure how this is really bike-related anyway, nor how it’s much of a big deal. “…he estimated that around 90-95 percent of taxi drivers use bluetooth and wireless hands-free systems…” – sounds like things are fine the way they are.

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      paikiala April 28, 2015 at 11:45 am

      It’s not the phone that’s the problem, it’s the conversation.
      http://tinyurl.com/opwdeq8

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      El Biciclero April 29, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      I find the most interesting part of the article to be Jonathan’s observation/inference that lawmakers readily empathize with drivers and passengers inside a cab: “how will the poor cabbie find enough fares?”, “yeah, but should he put his passenger(s) at risk?” BTW: doesn’t the amendment reveal that lawmakers do indeed perceive cell use while driving to be dangerous?

      So we see concern for cab drivers being able to do their jobs, and for passengers needing to get to their destinations in one piece, but no thought at all for the safety of bicyclists or pedestrians outside the cab. What about the bike commuter or transit rider who is just trying to get to their job in one piece?

      This is a bike-related story because it reveals the attitude of our legislature toward vulnerable road users. As much as they might like to believe that my safety is tied up completely in my responsibility to use a glowing neon force-field and magic hat whenever I ride anywhere, there is a real component to my safety that depends on all drivers paying attention—a component that lawmakers don’t seem to consider very important.

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    Indy April 28, 2015 at 11:11 am

    So we have cops and emergency workers, who MUST use these devices to maintain our safety. They’re a different breed of human than the rest of us, capable of amazing feats of zero lack of distraction, what with no less than 4 built-in communication devices on their dashboard.

    We have cabbies, another enhanced class of human, that has been genetically enhanced to wear flat caps, speed through every yellow turning red light downtown, and ignore hailing. They also have this cybernetic enhancement where they, too, can apparently look in multiple directions while traveling at high speeds, and tell useless banter to tourists unawares of Uber.

    But I digress. How can *we* subhumans attain these remarkable skills? I just want to see little Billy’s instagram update while driving through the Tunnel and changing lanes repeatedly?

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    9watts April 28, 2015 at 11:13 am

    “it should be a 15-second phone call every great once-in-a-while.”

    Said with a straight face?

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    Black Butte Porter April 28, 2015 at 11:28 am

    It would be interesting to test the cabbies while using their phone. Some people do better while talking on the phone than others. I can talk on a phone while driving on the freeway with no problem whatsoever – don’t have much experience doing it on city streets – and due to the need for higher concentration in city driving I would not want to try it. BUT I cannot punch in a phone number safely while driving – eyes have to be on those tiny keys too long – even in my case (600K miles of experience with no accidents) it isn’t safe.

    Fact is almost every driver on the road is texting at every stop light. Look around – they are all looking at their smart phones. When the light changes to green, they are still sitting there 5 seconds later. I give them 1 second, then I hit ’em with the horn to wake them up. It’s irritating.

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      hat April 28, 2015 at 11:49 am

      “…the feeling of being confident in more and more challenging situations is experienced as evidence of driving ability, and that ‘proven’ ability reinforces the feelings of confidence. Confidence feeds itself and grows unchecked until something happens – a near-miss or an accident.”

      http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20120214191939/http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/research/rsrr/theme2/pdfgoodbadtalenteddriver.pdf

      Most drivers think they are better than average. It is also, despite the annoying nature of waiting, a good idea to text while stationary.

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      caesar April 28, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      “I can talk on a phone while driving on the freeway with no problem whatsoever…”

      No problem whatsoever, sure – so far. The human capacity for self delusion is quite remarkable.

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      Patrick April 29, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      The Dunning-Kruger effect.

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    Eric April 28, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Last time I rode in a cab here in Ptown, it was a scary experience. Guy didnt quite know where he was going, didn’t quite speak English, and was a terrible/aggressive driver. He was on a the phone the whole time too (speaker mode) in his native language. I couldn’t tell if he was talking to me or on the phone. I somehow made it home, but will never do that again!

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      Robert Burchett April 29, 2015 at 3:59 pm

      Wait–you got in a green cab?

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    Justin Gast April 28, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    “cab drivers are experts at staying focused on the road.”

    Boy that’s the biggest joke of a line I’ve ever heard. Cabbies top my list of worst drivers on the road, with teens and TriMet bus drivers not far behind.

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      Chris I April 28, 2015 at 1:20 pm

      Have you ever driven a 40-foot bus in a city before? Just curious.

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        Matt April 29, 2015 at 9:15 pm

        Does he need to drive a bus to understand that some bus drivers are not good drivers? It’s irrelevant.

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      doug B April 28, 2015 at 9:28 pm

      cabbies and teens definitely, I disagree w/ bus drivers though

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    hat April 28, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    I would support a bill that, while prohibiting conversation with an electronic device while conducting a motor vehicle, also creates areas alongside highways for people to use their cells.

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      rainbike April 28, 2015 at 12:43 pm

      Rest areas? Fast food joints right off the off-ramp? What more do you need? The darned thing doesn’t have to be answered the second it begins buzzing. It’s this whole artificial sense of immediacy and urgency. In the vast majority of cases, it can wait. It’s just someone posting a picture of their restaurant meal.

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        hat April 28, 2015 at 1:13 pm

        Personally, I’m inclined to agree, but a lot of people need their Liquid Slam and WTFers.

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    CaptainKarma April 28, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Sigh. We’ll have to wait till someone walking or riding a bike is run over and maimed or killed to start the repeal.

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      hat April 28, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      Taxi driver unions may be shooting themselves in the foot. My guess is that the cost of hitting cars and people outweighs the time saved by stopping and talking (perhaps this even leads to brevity in conversation further saving time). Good research potential here.

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    davemess April 28, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    “The bill was sponsored by Senator Brian Boquist, a Republican from a rural district”

    This makes a TON of sense. Clearly a lot of cabs operating in rural areas.

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    Paul Cole April 28, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Would be great to see bicyclists prohibited from cell phone use as well!

    I don’t feel safe if anyone around me is on a phone while operating their vehicle.

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      hat April 28, 2015 at 1:14 pm

      Oh yes!

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    davemess April 28, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    And instead we’re worried about Uber reducing our safety?

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    Adam April 28, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    This article brings back SUCH fond memories of the time I was biking down NW Glisan a few years’ back, and almost got killed by a Radiocab driver simulaeously talking on his cell, trying to light a cigarette, and switch lanes at the same time.

    The other car he almost swiped was none too happy either. There was a giant shouting match at the next red light.

    Ah Radiocab Ah, such sweet memories!

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    Mike Quiglery April 28, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Oh, heck. Just exempt everybody. Waitaminute! They already have!

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    J_R April 28, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    I have children so I’m also wired for distraction. Can I use a cell phone, too?

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    drew April 28, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Having worked as a paramedic for 16 years, I endured some of my partners using their phones while driving. It was rarely for any work related stuff. The quality of their driving deteriorated, as to be expected. I told them that should there be a crash, I would make sure that the record indicated their cell phone use was part of the problem. That did not have much of an effect however.

    Nobody should be allowed to be distracted while driving no matter what job you have. We are all bad at multitasking. Allowing legal distraction comes at the cost of life and limb. Voting to allow job related distracted driving means you are okay with more traffic violence.

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      hat April 28, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Excellent point. This gets to the crux: there is no such thing as multi-tasking (how we often think of it in popular culture). We don’t split our attention, we switch our attention back and forth, or we do both tasks really really crappily.

      Our motor memory may be in control, particularly if you drive the same route repeatedly, but ACTIVE attention can only be directed to one thing, a conversation, or your surroundings.

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    Peejay April 28, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    The law against cell phone use is so self only enforced that I just operate as if it does not exist. I assume every driver is not paying attention to me until I can make eye contact.

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    reader April 28, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Why does a cab driver need to use their cell phone while driving? Fares call the dispatch number, the dispatcher radios the driver, the driver drives to the fare’s pickup location. If the driver needs to phone the fare to let them know they are outside, they can do that when they are safely stopped.

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      davemess April 29, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      And according to this article, 95% of them are already doing it with a hands free device (which I think we can also debate the safety value of). So this entire bill it for that 5% of drivers who are apparently too cheap or anachronistic to buy a supposedly necessary piece of equipment for their trade?

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    Adam H. April 28, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    People need to be held to a higher standard of safety whilst operating a motor vehicle. People who drive for a living need to be held to an even higher standard of safety. This bill is completely backwards.

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    Black Butte Porter April 28, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Quote: “It is also, despite the annoying nature of waiting, a good idea to text while stationary.”

    It is also illegal – even when stopped at a light. Problem is they don’t stop texting when they start moving – they just run over the white lines more, or dawdle along slowing traffic.

    Talking on a hands free device is already legal – I would think the cabbies would be using such equipment. NO?

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    Chris April 29, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    BTW, it’s “ham”, not “HAM”.

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    Darin Campbell April 30, 2015 at 2:43 am

    Just to be clear, I was using Bluetooth when I did this interview

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