“Drive carefully with your daughter. And have a wonderful afternoon.”
— Dan Ryan, Portland city commissioner
As you can see in the photo above, Portland Mayor Wheeler was actively driving while making a statement regarding a vote on a council agenda item (watch the video below). He looks directly into the camera several times. At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Dan Ryan said, “Drive carefully with your daughter. And have a wonderful afternoon.”
Talking on a hands-free device is not against the law in Oregon, but the behavior certainly qualifies as distracted driving and the mayor sets a dangerous example for all Portlanders by doing it.
You might think hands-free phone calls are safe, but doing so engages your brain in a way that takes your focus off of the task of driving.
A 2013 study from AAA on cognitive distraction found that talking on a hands-free phone was only slightly less distracting than holding the phone in your hand. “Even when a driver’s eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel, sources of cognitive distraction cause significant impairments to driving, such as: Suppressed brain activity in the areas needed for safe driving; Increased reaction time (to peripheral detection test and lead vehicle braking); Missed cues and decreased accuracy (to peripheral detection test); and Decreased visual scanning of the driving environment (tunnel vision, of sorts),” reads a summary of the AAA study.
Here’s the video of the today’s meeting where Mayor Wheeler makes statements and looks at his phone while driving his daughter in his personal car:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as, “… anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.” A Washington Post article from March 2021 titled, Using hands-free cellphones when you drive is not as safe as you think reported that,
a 2018 analysis of dozens of studies concluded that “conversation on a handheld or hands-free phone resulted in performance costs when compared with baseline driving for reaction time, stimulus detection, and collisions.” Yet another review suggested that hands-free conversations could create unique concerns because “drivers compensate for the deleterious effects of cell phone use when using a handheld phone but neglect to do so when using a hands-free phone.”
Portland has had a record number of fatal traffic crashes so far this year. Our roads are dark and wet and slick this time of year. We need everyone to redouble their efforts to drive with as much caution and respect for others as possible. A momentary lapse in attention can cause a lifetime of trauma and tragedy.
Please don’t drive distracted Mayor Wheeler! And if you do it for whatever reason in the future, please have the sense to not broadcast that dangerous behavior to the entire city.
I’ve asked the Mayor’s office for comment but have not yet heard back.
UPDATE, 12/16 at 11:15 am: A spokesperson for the Mayor’s office says they have no comment.