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State’s distracted driving campaign now includes unmarked patrol cars, task force

Posted by on April 6th, 2016 at 9:15 am

New unmarked Oregon State Police car unveiled at a press conference in Salem yesterday.
(Photo: ODOT)

The Oregon Department of Transportation is ramping up its attack on distracted driving.

“Our goal is to change cultural norms when it comes to distracted driving.”
— Matt Garrett, Director of ODOT

At a press conference yesterday ODOT Director Matt Garrett said the agency will tackle what he called an epidemic, “Through sustained education, enforcement, and policy initiatives.” He added that his goal is nothing less than to “change cultural norms when it comes to distracted driving.”

To do that Garrett announcd a new task force that will be made up of representatives from ODOT, Oregon State Police, AAA Oregon/Idaho, public health agencies, the courts, emergency service providers, academia and the media. (We’ve requested a list of names and more information on the task force but ODOT says it’s still preliminary and details are yet to be finalized.)

Beyond the task force and marketing efforts the most encouraging news is that the Oregon State Police are now using a fleet of 40 new unmarked patrol cars “to observe and document distracted driving.” Yesterday OSP announced they’ve already notched a 37 percent increase in enforcement. OSP Captain Dave Anderson said they’re focusing on five specific behaviors: speed, occupant safety (seat belt use), lane usage, impaired driving and distracted driving.

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Behind Anderson and Garrett as they spoke to media in Salem yesterday was a wrecked OSP patrol car that was rear-ended by a distracted driver last year and a big road sign that read: “U drive, u text, u pay.”

The efforts come after a marked increase in fatal traffic crashes last year when road deaths spiked 20 percent. That rise far outpaced vehicle miles traveled which, according to ODOT economists, was only up 5.4 percent. ODOT believes that by far the largest contributing factor to this increase is human error.

ODOT has completed a survey and commissioned a study on distracted driving in Oregon. Their data shows between 2010 and 2014 distracted driving was at least partly to blame for a crash every 2.5 hours an injury every three hours. A whopping 75 percent of people admitted driving distracted in a recent AAA survey. 83 percent of respondents to that survey agreed that the problem is on the rise and feel that, “stronger laws, better use of technology, and increased awareness,” are how we should fight it.

While we’re on the topic, have you seen the brillian anti-distracted driving campaign video from New Zealand? Watch it below…

Wonder if ODOT could get this to run on TV and the web here in Oregon?

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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82 Comments
  • rick April 6, 2016 at 9:20 am

    “U pay” with what penalties that have been shown lately?

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    • Tim April 6, 2016 at 10:47 am

      U-pay is probably not much of a deterrent. The odds of being caught and the fine is too low. A better slogan _
      What will you tell the family of the person you kill?
      Sorry, but I had an important text message.

      Fines don’t connect with lives of your friends and family.

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      • Kristi Finney Dunn April 6, 2016 at 11:07 am

        At the Vision Zero Cities Conference, an advocate from Sweden said people given citations for driving unsafely in school zones have a choice, pay the fine or tell the school children why they risked their safety.

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        • Anne Hawley
          Anne Hawley April 6, 2016 at 11:52 am

          I’d think the experience of having to explain yourself to schoolchildren would be a vastly more lasting and powerful deterrent than money.

          Unfortunately, the schoolchildren would get pretty bored with it when it starts taking up their entire school day, every day.

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          • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:07 am

            To a room fulla children who’s only hearts desire is to possess THE latest tech gimmick ?

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        • Steve B. April 6, 2016 at 12:51 pm

          That is brilliant!

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        • gutterbunnybikes April 6, 2016 at 4:42 pm

          Considering the driving behavior of many parents while dropping off and picking up their children from school. I think there is some merit to this idea. It would definitely leave an impression to have to go through such a confession in front of your kids friends, teachers, and perhaps family.

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          • El Biciclero April 7, 2016 at 10:08 am

            Should just have to stand outside the school holding a sign that says

            “I ENDANGER YOUR CHILDREN WITH MY CARELESS DRIVING”

            Also, have some squishy tomatoes available as an option for other parents.

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            • Eric Leifsdad April 7, 2016 at 11:49 am

              In the middle of the street. Given a portable refuge island (30in diameter truck tire) to stand on in the middle of the crosswalk, traffic would be able to continue without stopping.

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  • Granpa April 6, 2016 at 9:26 am

    Motorcycles and trucks (bicycles too) are taller than most cars and provide a superior view into the car. Police in low slung sedans will miss a lot of the things they could see from a taller vehicle.

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    • Tim April 6, 2016 at 10:52 am

      I see people playing with their phones every time I roll past the line of cars backed up at the elementary school. I can always tell from a distance who is on the phone by the difficulty they are having driving straight.

      Talk about your low hanging fruit. A officer on foot could issue a dozen citations each morning, if they get out of their patrol car.

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      • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:02 am

        I ride my bikes. I use nearly as much windshield washer fluid in “the artifact” than gas. Every time I’ve tried to drive it while futzing with lithium ion’s been a terrifying revelation. And yet. . .

        Nearly EVERY woman and yes, lotsa men too are playing with their phones as we pass? Me on a 17 lb bike, she in a giant Tahoe.

        Either there’s no real need for a safety concern with this or far too many people have a, shall we say, “medical” need to be so connected” and will soon be legally authorized to be connected to anynand everything but the present.

        I wish ODOT would just fix the mess they leave us cyclists in their stupid zones. Shiny overpriced cop cars didn’t solve any marijuana “problem” and don’t stand any chance with other institutionalized distractions.

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    • q`Tzal April 6, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      Magnetic mounted GoPro in a diving case positioned on top of the wigwag on both right and left sides aiming straight out and down at a 30°~45° angle. The angle prevents view outside the immediate lane.

      A sensor mounted next to it could detect the specific light frequencies of smartphone screens (the spectra is very easy to differentiate from natural light) and trigger a dashboard viewscreen for the officer to glance at to determine if they are doing something illegal.

      All while recording the offense for traffic court.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. April 6, 2016 at 9:28 am

    I applaud ODOT for trying to change the culture around distracted driving. ODOT should take measures to ensure that this campaign doesn’t creep into victim-blaming hi-vis territory (I’m looking at you, TriMet). Hopefully this campaign will change people’s behaviors and save lives.

    However, ODOT also needs to take into consideration their deadly-by-design roads. Vision Zero requires a multi-faceted approach and education and enforcement are only part of the equation. Road design plays a massive role in safety and ODOT needs to start seriously considering this as a factor.

    Of course, this requires ODOT to admit to their own mistakes.

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    • 9watts April 6, 2016 at 11:11 am

      “this requires ODOT to admit to their own mistakes.”
      ODOT doesn’t think much of Vision Zero, but “Our goal is to change cultural norms when it comes to distracted driving.”

      Hm.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. April 6, 2016 at 11:17 am

        Hmm indeed. I do think it’s hypocritical for an organization to simultaneously want to “change cultural norms” about driving yet argue that their road design must not interfere with current vehicle capacity.

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  • Oliver April 6, 2016 at 9:44 am

    I’d love to see a cultural shift on distracted driving, but drivers aren’t running over people walking or riding bicycles on the Interstate.

    ” focusing on five specific behaviors: speed, occupant safety (seat belt use), lane usage, impaired driving and distracted driving.” And probably in that order as well. How much money are we actually prepared to spend waste to capture that last 2.3% of idiots who refuse to buckle up?

    To me that reads like it’s business as usual for law enforcement, focusing on the (same old) low-hanging fruit, but rolling out a bunch of feel good platitudes to justify a shiny new squadron of unmarked cars.

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    • Scott H April 6, 2016 at 11:10 am

      The overall percentage of vehicle occupants not using seat belts is low, but the percentage of people involved in fatal crashes not wearing seatbelts is crazy high, I think it was upwards of 30% last year? Given those numbers, it’s not far fetched to say that enforcing seat belt laws is an efficient way to save lives.

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      • Tim April 6, 2016 at 4:16 pm

        Like helmet laws, correlation is not cause. Consider that the same bulletproof thinking that ignores the seat belt, also drives 90 MPH.

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        • paikiala April 7, 2016 at 10:04 am

          any actual data to back up that opinion?

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      • JeffS April 7, 2016 at 8:32 am

        We have enough people already. Going out of your way to enforce restrictions that only protect the person not willing to use them? Why? To improve a statistic?

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        • paikiala April 7, 2016 at 10:06 am

          A bit myopic, considering the one they kill could be you. People who don’t acknowledge basic easy safety measures are likely ignoring the more difficult cognitive concepts.

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      • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:17 am

        Depends on a personal definition of “efficient”, otherwise accurate.

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      • Pete April 8, 2016 at 10:40 pm

        There’s one and only one reason seatbelt laws are enforced, and were enacted in the first place, and that’s because the damage caused by not using them costs insurance companies lots of money. Distracted driving is also starting to, which is why you see even AAA involved.

        Probably time to rehash my anecdote about watching mandatory seatbelt laws get repealed repeatedly by voters while I was growing up, until finally the insurance lobbyists convinced the federal government to withhold highway funding for states that didn’t have them.

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    • mh April 6, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      Anyone want to bet on the percentage of stops for each of the five categories? I hope they’re primarily looking for behaviors that are killing VRU, but I’m guessing there will be a lot of seat belt stops. It’s a nice, familiar citation, been doing it for years.

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  • Paul Atkinson April 6, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Do we have any idea which roads OSP will be patrolling? I’m curious whether they’ll get off the freeways (and the handful of state highways within the city) and onto the city streets with this initiative.

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    • Active April 6, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      No, they have jurisdiction on state highways and freeways only. You’ll have to look to the PPB and other local agencies to enforce local streets.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. April 6, 2016 at 12:38 pm

        Do Powell, Barbur, 82nd, etc. count as state highways as far as OSP is concerned or are those roads still PPB territory?

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      • Paul Atkinson April 6, 2016 at 1:46 pm

        That’s what I was afraid of. So the problems I see a dozen times a day on my commute will be unaffected (except by some potential downstream effects).

        One hopes PPB’s promised increase in traffic enforcement would be coordinated with this effort, but that may be too much to hope for.

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      • James Sherbondy April 6, 2016 at 7:54 pm

        Not true. At all. As a sworn officer of the state, any cop, whether state,local or county can issue a citation anywhere in the State of Oregon.

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    • Steve B. April 6, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      I imagine it has to do with their jurisdiction. For instance I don’t think OSP patrols city streets that have a municipal police force in place like PPB.

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    • Tim April 6, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      Will they have computers facing the driver. Cops are exempt from the distracted driver laws. Why? Are they somehow super human and can type and drive at the same time?

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  • Eric April 6, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Had to buy fancy new unmarked cars to catch people who aren’t looking at the road?!
    That’s some LOGIC right there.
    Someone’s always getting paid.

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    • Granpa April 6, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      The Dodge Charger costs from $27000 to around $65000 for the “boy racer” model. The car shown looks to be a middle of the range model (about $33000) which has ample power, One could expect it to be fitted with standard police fitment. A Mercedes S class is a fancy car. An Audi A8 or a Cadillac is a fancy car. An unmarked police cruiser is not a fancy car. I, for one, am happy that our boys in blue are going after distracted drivers, and I am fine that they are not using used up old beaters to do their jobs.

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      • Eric April 6, 2016 at 3:57 pm

        “used up old beaters” ??? Haven’t seen any of those on patrol… and if a car costs the public $33,000 you can bet it costs the taxpayers substantially more.

        Even so, THAT’S $33,000 FOR ONE CAR!
        They bought 40 of them.

        *** That is $1.32 MILLION DOLLARS!!!***
        *** That is $1.32 MILLION DOLLARS!!!***
        *** That is $1.32 MILLION DOLLARS!!!***

        Not even counting all of the gas those things guzzle!

        Just “to observe and document distracted driving.” !?!?!?!?

        And when deaths from distracted drivers do not go down, and the citations/fines do not go up substantially… well that must mean there needs to be more spending on more gear!

        Assuming the police union would even stand for it, do you suppose an economy size car would be insufficient for ticketing distracted drivers?

        Totally support the police having the tools to do their jobs, but just because it isn’t an M5 tank for the SWAT team doesn’t mean it isn’t graft, corruption, and over-spending.

        If you support stuff like this there will never be enough money for public agencies, ever.

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        • Granpa April 7, 2016 at 7:47 am

          No need to shout Eric. Regarding “used up cars, a car can be pretty thrashed and still be straight and shiny. I will bet you a beer that there are police cruisers currently in service that have more than 120,000 mile on them, of hard duty.
          The article says that the new cars will be used to observe and document distracted driving. I don’t read that to say that the cars will not be used in other police activities including pursuits. Just like I don’t want the police using squirt guns while criminals are using assault rifles, I want Portland’s law enforcement officers to have superior equipment on the roads.

          If one has a bias against the police there is no justifying their budgets (or existence). I don’t have that bias.

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          • Eric April 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm

            Hahaha not yelling, creating emphasis.
            Chill out, granpa, I’ll be off your lawn in a second! 🙂

            And of course the cars are going to be used for other stuff! Because it would clearly be insane to spend that money on what sounds like a place from which to take notes on lawbreakers.

            The OSP got some money to deal with distracted driving; before anything is even announced they’ve spent (at least some) of that money on equipment that, as you suspect, will ultimtaely be used for other departments/projects … because those departments have already blown their budgets on things like… well, $1.32 million for a couple dozen cars (and of course those police spec cars will cost way more than $33k, lets not kid ourselves).

            Sounds like I’m saying these cars are complete overkill, but you are saying they are they a misapplication of funds, hidden in something the public wants but for use in a way that the public would likely not authorize? I don’t want to put words into your mouth, so clarify if I am wrong.

            Do not have a bias against police. Far from it. Very supportive. Dissent does not equate to hostility!

            Do have a very strong disdain for graft, corruption, and overspending.
            The cops on the street aren’t making these stupid decisions, and they’re not the ones getting their palms greased either. Parading a “support for police” as a shield against questioning administrative decisions is disingenuous.

            As for high speed pursuits… this isn’t TV. There are very specific laws and regulations regarding that (https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/526054 and again at state level) and they rarely happen thank goodness.

            If folks are OK with spending millions of dollars on dubious specialty equipment (of course it is cars or guns, not body cameras or conflict resolution training) that is defined as being applied “to observe and document distracted driving” (again, with no explicit mention of enforcement, just taking notes) that is certainly one position to take, but it is not mine and it is not the position of anyone I know.

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          • 9watts April 7, 2016 at 4:35 pm

            “I want Portland’s law enforcement officers to have superior equipment on the roads.”

            Why?
            What would happen if they didn’t?

            The part about their equipment (especially but not only the cars) is that they are increasingly menacing. They project force, speed, violence, testosterone. None of the things I’d hope my police would seek to emphasize.

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      • gutterbunnybikes April 6, 2016 at 4:48 pm

        Most manufacturers with police contracts (all of them) have police models. I drove a Caprice when I was a cab drive which was a used cop car. Other than body style and 4 doors, it was a Corvette. Same souped up engine, trans, and suspension.

        (probably should say it in a thread/message board like this – but it was a very fun car to drive).

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      • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:31 am

        Where is that thumbs down button?

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    • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:21 am

      Who’s ALWAYS paying for this ?

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      • Eric April 7, 2016 at 2:22 pm

        taxpayers

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. April 7, 2016 at 2:23 pm

          Good thing bikes don’t pay taxes!

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  • B. Carfree April 6, 2016 at 10:19 am

    While every additional effort at some traffic law enforcement is appreciated, these baby steps are really getting to me. When are we going to realize that we have to have a huge increase in enforcement in order to reduce roadway CARnage? A casual observation on any roadway will demonstrate that our motorists have complete and utter disdain for, and perhaps ignorance of, our traffic laws. We’re not going to break those deadly habits by increasing the probability of being caught from 0.0000001% to 0.00000012%.

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  • Lester Burnham April 6, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Will they also be going after cyclists on cell phones?

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    • B. Carfree April 6, 2016 at 10:55 am

      Sure, since cyclists kill about one person per year nationwide, of course we should invest as many of our almost non-existent traffic enforcement resources going after them as possible. While we’re at it, let’s get those scofflaw wheelchair users and the old-folks in walkers. That’ll knock down our road deaths in a hurry, I’m sure.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. April 6, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Doubtful, since it’s not illegal to talk on your cell phone while riding a bike.

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    • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:25 am

      Multiple dog walkers with white wire earrings might be a pet peeve if allowed.

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  • dwk April 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

    I was pulled over last week at 6:15AM for running the red lights at Broadway & Weidler on my bike commute. The police officer gave me a warning for it.
    So they are enforcing traffic laws.

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  • Todd Boulanger April 6, 2016 at 11:16 am

    I wonder if the Governor would send a note to this effect to all of the judges in the state…to guide their judgements on “sentencing” and have them read it to each jury before the trial for the deliberations.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley April 6, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    What is ODOT’s relationship to the DMV? I get that they have to work with the bad, underqualified drivers currently on the road, but why is there no mention of making it harder to get and retain a driver’s license?

    If they’re assuming that people will still be driving a generation from now (which all their road design says they are), then why aren’t they mandating that drivers have to be better, starting this year?

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    • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:30 am

      Thats a great idea. How do we implement such brilliance when it goes against an obviously overpowering agenda to maintain distraction at any cost? More drivers equal more so called economy. It appears to me that economy almighty is the only “law” getting any respect.

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  • Alexis April 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Just this morning a guy with a phone pressed to his ear turning left off MLK had to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting me and my dog while we were crossing with the light. He made the palm up “Sorry!” gesture while still continuing his phone conversation. I made the thumb and pinky “hang up the phone” gesture once I was safely out of his path.

    Personally, I’d love to see red light cameras upgraded to capture video and used to ticket folks using their phones while driving. Can you imagine what we could do with the revenue from all those tickets?

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    • paikiala April 7, 2016 at 10:14 am

      You presume video capture is not already part of the enforcement for red light cameras.
      BTW, PBOT does not permit red light cameras to be placed at high violation locations, only high crash from red light running locations.
      Jurisdictions that pick enforcement locations based on revenue generation don’t typically get to retain that tool for very long.

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    • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:34 am

      You’ve asked a pisces native to imagine. . .

      We could fund mass implantation of uchips into newborns. . .

      I’m too old to be any more cynical.

      Take care

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    • Pete April 8, 2016 at 10:52 pm

      I had a similar polite gesture from a driver who was sharing the bike lane with me yesterday. We actually had a reasonable conversation when I caught up with him at the high school he was picking his kid up at, when I stopped to ask if he was there to teach his kid it was OK to play with a phone while driving. I told him about 19-year-old Melanie Souza killing my neighbor Stan Wicka while texting, though I selectively left out the part where she basically went unpunished.

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  • CaptainKarma April 6, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Shooda been an SUV for a better look down into the cars. also need cameras rolling for evidence.

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  • Bill Stites April 6, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Distracted driving is a GIANT problem. Glad to see they are addressing it … to a small degree.

    Conventional policing means are not going to solve the issue; it will take some form of technological cure to match the rise of the cell phone in everyday life.
    Somehow, we’ve tapped into some form of ‘human nature’, where people just can’t seem to put the damn phones down … even good people.

    Frankly, I believe only complete disabling of phones upon starting the car is what will be needed. If you really need to communicate with someone, you pull over and turn your engine off. Emergency access to 911 can be maintained – we already see this feature on phones in certain limited-access situations.
    This would also address the idling engines problem, while the driver has not yet disembarked [but at least they aren’t driving! kudos there].

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    • rachel b April 7, 2016 at 1:10 am

      Good ideas, Bill Stites!
      Our brains are wired to seek novelty and reward. We are doomed. I fear so much what a smartphone would make me, I cling to my dumbphone and all my friends hate me.

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      • El Biciclero April 8, 2016 at 11:48 am

        +10 for dumbphones. I keep mine in my bike bag for emergency use (I don’t even know if it’s charged right now), and almost never drag it out for other reasons. I recently had an interesting experience with phone number assumptions, however. My wife needed to rent a car (I know), and the rental agent required two phone numbers to be on record. What would we have done if neither of us had a mobile phone in addition to our home (landline) phone?

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    • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:36 am

      It’s also been called BRAINWASHING. Human nature is a disrespectful insult.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley April 7, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Oh man, yeah. Peripheral issue, related to safety only in the realm of air quality, but yeah. It bugs the heck out of me, how often I see people texting while idling. Especially right in front of my house when I’m trying to enjoy my front porch.

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  • Dan A April 6, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Will they be speeding in those cars too?

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  • David Feldman April 6, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Stealth cops–good! Better yet, have them seize and destroy the offender’s phone on the spot–this might be the best possible persuader.

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    • paikiala April 7, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Are you presuming that distracted driving only involves phones?
      And what kind of world are you hoping for if the government can seize and destroy property without due process? Again, a bit myopic.

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      • Dave April 11, 2016 at 8:56 am

        And what would be wrong with destroying cell phones? No difference between that and pouring an open bottle of liquor on the ground.

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  • bendite April 6, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    They could easily just pop people at stoplights. I know in their brains they’re thinking “I just check at the stoplights”, but I wonder what the actual percentage is of drivers who only check at stoplights?

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    • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Thanks for the peek into your psyche

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      • bendite April 7, 2016 at 6:52 pm

        Just a guess. What do you think they’re thinking?

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  • jered bogli April 6, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    could just put an officer at all the metered on ramps and off ramps with stop lights (murray blvd) holding a sign that says “distracted driving give the state some monesy” and write tickets all day long. everyone would awkwardly avoid eye contact untill the officer was handing them the ticket… just saying – full goldmine.

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  • Dan A April 7, 2016 at 8:11 am

    Turn signals missing from the list. Are these now optional?

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley April 7, 2016 at 4:33 pm

      From my experience, they are increasingly optional, yes.

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  • Matthew B April 7, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Unfortunately, unless we get leadership from the three branches of government: legislative, executive AND judicial, not much is going to change. To me there needs to be a license points system, so once you rack up so many points, you lose your license. There needs to be zero tolerance for impaired and distracted driving. If someone is driving an unregistered or uninsured motor vehicle, that vehicle needs to be impounded and the occupants transported to the police precinct were they can arrange alternative transport to their destination. Unless people face the real possibility that their ability to drive is going to be curtailed, they’re not going to change their behaviors. ODOT, the police and the courts do not seem to me to have any appetite for enforcing the Oregon traffic laws.

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    • paikiala April 7, 2016 at 10:17 am

      This from the same legislature that forced ODOT to raise rural highway speed limits without adding comparable safety funding?

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    • Rain Waters April 7, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Leadership from the tree branches of government.

      Made my day!

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  • Tom April 7, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Fine is pocket change and no points. Drivers will just laugh this off as usual. The protected class keeps their protection, just the police get new expensive cars to drive around while the officers text. Where is the real reform? New cars….thats their big idea?….what a joke.

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    • paikiala April 7, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Some safer countries than ours use a percent of income metric to assess fines. 0.5% of a 30k per year income is $150 and for a $100k per year income it is $500. This is and example of ‘equitable’ penalties.

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  • Skid April 7, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    That tint looks dark enough to be illegal.

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