Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was driving and talking on a video call during City Council meeting

Screengrab from today’s council meeting shows Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler looking into his phone and making a statement while driving.

“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.

(Source: AAA)

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.

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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.

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Charley
Charley
11 months ago

I’ve never been one of these people who just hates Wheeler. I get that he can make poor political decisions sometimes, but I think that on most of the hot-button controversies of 2021 Portlandia, he is boxed in.

Wheeler has a number of very engaged, passionate activists to his left, calling for things like police abolition and compassionate treatment of people without housing. But there are also a very large number of voters just to his right, many of whom are angry about Portland’s new national reputation for rising crime, destructive street protests, and street camps; many of these people are fed up and want a quick solution, even if that solution was more punitive.

The end result is that when I see a yard sign advertising “Recall Wheeler,” I can’t know if the sign was placed by a BLM activist who believes we should defund the police, or a business owner who wants clean streets.

So, I’ve always kinda thrown up my hands. Wheeler couldn’t satisfy all these people unless he somehow simultaneously prevented all crime, housed everyone, abolished the police, and brought Major League Baseball to the city.

But what is this new $#!+? Literally phoning in to work, while driving a child in a car??? That ain’t cool. I have no respect for that.

one
11 months ago
Reply to  Charley

News to me that there are folks on the right who would want to replace Wheeler. I’m center left and literally NO ONE that I know that pays attention supports this guy.

Charley
Charley
11 months ago
Reply to  one

Read the r/Portland subreddit for a while and you will come across them. 🙂

cmh89
cmh89
11 months ago
Reply to  Charley

So, I’ve always kinda thrown up my hands. Wheeler couldn’t satisfy all these people unless he somehow simultaneously prevented all crime, housed everyone, abolished the police, and brought Major League Baseball to the city.

He shouldn’t be trying to satisfy all these people. He should have ideas and use those ideas to carry out the agenda he ran on. To be fair, this isn’t just a Wheeler, the City of Portland is in total gridlock because they try and satisfy every single concern all at once.

If Wheeler wants the police status quo, he should advocate for increasing the budget. If Wheeler wants criminal justice reform, he should advocate for that and allocate money to alternative and promising programs like the PSR. His big problem is that he is a completely empty suit. He’s a trust fund baby who wanted more than anything to play Governor so he’s stuck trying to court conservatives in the Willamette Valley and liberals in the Portland Metro Area and the result is his platitudes.

Charley
Charley
11 months ago
Reply to  cmh89

I can’t agree with some of your reply, cmh89, (for example, I don’t know Wheeler, so I can’t possibly psychoanalyze his motives for holding political office), but I do think you’re right that Portland ties itself in knots trying to satisfy too many different kinds of constituencies.

Maybe my most fundamental critique of the city is that our form of government (at-large Council elections, combined with rotating Councillor control of all the bureaus), does not work well. By extension, the Mayor’s bully pulpit affords him an opportunity to rally the Council and electorate toward a charter amendment that would fix this fundamental problem. And since Wheeler hasn’t, he’s ultimately responsible.

Aliss Hauser
Aliss Hauser
11 months ago
Reply to  Charley

seriously!! i have not understood the Recall Wheeler signs until now.

pruss2ny
pruss2ny
11 months ago

how could anyone think this is ok?

bendite
bendite
11 months ago
Reply to  pruss2ny

All the people who talk on the phone while driving think it is.

Boyd
Boyd
11 months ago
Reply to  bendite

There’s a difference between talking on the phone while driving and participating in a public meeting where real decisions are being made that will have real impacts on the lives of Portland residents as an elected official.

Either he wasn’t devoting enough attention to his driving or he wasn’t devoting enough attention to his job. You can’t do both adequately. Anyone that thinks they can half ass it behind the wheel of a potentially lethal multi ton vehicle is either delusional, an idiot, or a psychopath.

Aliss Hauser
Aliss Hauser
11 months ago
Reply to  Boyd

exactly! we’ve all had to take calls while driving or tried not to. this being on video, his extensive comments, voting on a matter, all of it is next level.

pruss2ny
pruss2ny
11 months ago
Reply to  bendite

humbly suggest a modest difference between taking an audio call vs. a video call where your natural inclination is to make eye contact with the video conference.

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson
11 months ago
Reply to  pruss2ny

This reminds me of our convoluted COVID discussion we’ve been having over the past year. The data in front of us says that a passenger in the car is more distracting than a hands-free phone call while driving. Is the next step to ensure that no one Ever is in the passenger seat of a car?

Let’s pick battles that (1) makes sense and (2) we can win.

I’ve been on a lot of conference calls were one of the participants was driving down a long lonely highway. I don’t really see a problem with this.

To pruss2ny’s Point: video screens should be prohibited in the front seat of any passenger car. That’s where I draw the line.

Lisa Caballero (Asst. Editor / SW Correspondent)
Editor
Reply to  Peter Robinson

Do you have a link to “data in front of us?” My understanding was that a passenger, being in the same place as the driver, rather than a disembodied voice oblivious to local circumstances, does not pose the distraction problem of a phone. (Especially if the passenger is me, I help the driver a lot—just ask my husband.)

David Hampsten
11 months ago

JM has a diagram from AAA in his article that indicates that the passenger can be almost as distracting as a hand-held cell phone. That’s the “data in front of us”.

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Sorry for not being clear about “the data in front of us.“ But yes I was referring to the chart in JM‘s article. The chart, as I interpret it, indicates that a hands-free phone call is *less* distracting than having a passenger.

When I’m driving with my family, I often shout “shut up” when I have to merge because I cannot participate in a family conversation and do anything more complex than stay in my lane. My family is no longer bothered by my outburst.

Lisa Caballero (Asst. Editor / SW Correspondent)
Editor
Reply to  Peter Robinson

Thanks Peter and David. Next they can study reading comprehension on various devices, I’m much less sloppy on a computer than a phone, iPad is in between.

But my point still holds. The way they studied “conversation” with a passenger was really artificial, it doesn’t take into consideration real conversation patterns that naturally occur while driving. When driving w another adult in stressful conditions my experience is that both people pay attention to the road. With a kid, Peter’s “shut up” technique works pretty well, but what I remember mostly is a lot of quiet trips.

bendite
bendite
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Robinson

And you don’t yell “shut up” when on a phone call and instead try to stay engaged in the call.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

passenger can be almost as distracting as a hand-held cell phone

And, much to my surprise, more distracting than a hands-free phone.

David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Particularly a cell phone that is turned off, versus the continuously live human.

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It feels like a quibble but the AAA graph has a ring of truthiness. Is it peer-reviewed? Did AAA pay for the research?

I’m not an expert but my impression has been that any cell phone conversation is a much greater distraction than the presence of a passenger. Suddenly they are approximately equal?

AAA is one of the strongest advocates in the US for car use and everything that comes with it.

bendite
bendite
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

If you look at the details of the study, the portion of conversing with someone in the car is very artificial and unlikely to reflect real world experience.

CaptainKarma
CaptainKarma
11 months ago
Reply to  pruss2ny

It is not OK. Deaths result. I spent two years in a master’s program studying divided attention. Deaths result. Hands free or not.

Keith
Keith
11 months ago

Sigh… So much for Vision Zero. While I don’t doubt the mayor was doing his best to drive responsibly, it sends the wrong message.

Thomas Welborn
Thomas Welborn
11 months ago

Even though the City is inept in many ways and worthy of criticism, the importance here is overstated. Now, if you were to criticize the mayor for willfully neglecting violent mob activity that began rising in 2014 and may not have peaked yet, then there would be a good story here. The city is still treating the violent mob as if it’s a mental health and drug priority when it’s neo-anarchic social upheaval where the mob intends to rule.

Tim
Tim
11 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Welborn

As yourself, Am I more likely to be damaged by a distracted driver or a violent mob. Provide your evidence.

Pythia
Pythia
11 months ago

I dreamed that this behavior will continue to become normalized until President-Speaker Trump passes an executive order requiring everyone to purchase fully autonomous vehicles from Transportation Secretary Musk’s company (a loyal friend of the President-Speaker).

Lisa Caballero (Asst. Editor / SW Correspondent)
Editor
Reply to  Pythia

That’s called a nightmare.

Frank S.
Frank S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Pythia

Wow still stuck on Trump huh? Have you looked around at what is happening RIGHT NOW with the current folks in charge?

CaptainKarma
CaptainKarma
11 months ago
Reply to  Frank S.

We continue to uncover the crimes of the previous administration daily.

Frank S.
Frank S.
11 months ago
Reply to  CaptainKarma

While ignoring the crimes of the current one.

Boyd
Boyd
11 months ago
Reply to  Frank S.

What crimes?

bendite
bendite
11 months ago
Reply to  Boyd

Hunter’s laptop!

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  Frank S.

What crimes? Is praying the rosary suddenly illegal? We know { } was a damn crook because he wouldn’t shut up about it. I’m unlikely to forgive but it would be a sweet luxury to forget at least a fraction of the kakistocracy. The upside of climate change is, soon there’ll be no more Mar-a-Lago.

Is that varmint DeJoy still running the Post Office?

Oh yeah, for shame, Mr. Wheeler. Eat crow. Get it behind you, you’ll feel better.

Thomas Menderhas
Thomas Menderhas
11 months ago

Hands-free calls aren’t illegal, so this is a pretty big nothingburger of an article. I guess winter really slows down the bicycling news? I get that you don’t like our mayor and are still upset that Eudaly lost, but come on Jonathan.

bendite
bendite
11 months ago

You highlight a good point of the misguided law. Holding phone to the side of your head? Distracting! Holding phone two feet from your head on speaker? Everything’s fine.

Chris I
Chris I
11 months ago
Reply to  bendite

Mounting a phone in the middle of your windshield and holding a video conference or displaying turn by turn directions while driving: not distracting!

bjorn
bjorn
11 months ago

what does eudaly’s loss, (to Mapps not Wheeler) have to do with the mayor videoconferencing while driving?

Jens Lentach
Jens Lentach
11 months ago

the behavior certainly qualifies as distracted driving and the mayor sets an example for all Portlanders by doing it.

The definition of “Distracted Driving” is incredibly vague, literally any sound, sight or thought not directly involved with driving apparently qualifies. In practice, it’s really only applicable when a moving violation or accident happens: you admit that you were talking to a passenger, fiddling with the radio, etc. when talking to law enforcement, after the fact.

Go read the law for yourself. It’s legal to use a hands-free device while driving and the mayor did so. The link above literally says the law does not apply in that scenario.

I’d also like to point out how ridiculous this pearl-clutching about “setting an example” is. Practically nobody watches city council meetings and the people who do aren’t going to jump behind the wheel and go distracted drivin’ just because the mayor took a hands-free call once. Get a grip, there are thousands of Uber / Lyft drivers squinting at three phones out there while listening to the radio and talking to passengers. It’s obvious that this is more politically motivated than anything. I believe it’s called Concern Trolling, FYI.

David Hampsten
11 months ago

How is the weather in Portland?

I’m guessing it was very unpleasant outside when you, as our intrepid reporter par excellence, decided to either tune in live, or more likely watched the recorded video, of a city council session that typically has an audience of no more than 25 in a city of over 650,000.

Aside from the mayor driving while participating at a public meeting, was there anything interesting being discussed?

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

25? All the more important for somebody to be watching and reporting at a time when other local media has been gutted and spends its remaining attention span on a search for snowflakes. (If a local TV channel had picked up on Wheeler’s obvious gaffe they would have blown it up sky high).

soren
soren
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

…a city council session that typically has an audience of no more than 25 in a city of over 650,000

Manufactured apathy is the post-democratic cousin of manufactured consent.

David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  soren

Even before the pandemic, the typical audience was 25-40, about half of whom were city staff, a certain number of reporters, and a handful of concerned citizens. Obviously during controversial hearings citizen participation and lobbying rapidly increased to quite high numbers, but on most days it was very quiet and sedate. I was sometimes one of those citizens.

Organic home-grown apathy is the usual variety.

Caleb
Caleb
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Organic home-grown apathy is the usual variety.

Those who adopt manufactured consent generally think their consent is home grown. Often their opposition believes it is, as well. Surely, then, manufactured apathy could also appear home grown. If you don’t believe the US general public has experienced a substantial top-down depoliticization (primarily since the Civil Rights and anti-war movements), I recommend reading up on the idea.

David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  Caleb

It doesn’t matter and no one cares, so why bother?

caleb
caleb
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Oh, I was just talking about the concerted effort (read the Powell memo if you haven’t: https://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/) that has brought our country to a point where a large portion of the population thinks COVID is a hoax, political correctness is a left machination, “the media” skews liberal, and the government is inherently bad and incapable so a coup is okay and private corporations should control everything. That “nobody” cares is a problem, but not enough reason for me to not bother. You cared enough to suggest soren was wrong. Why did you bother?

johnny banks
johnny banks
11 months ago

I was hit by an ebike on Friday, the driver was definitely distracted by something. Probably seasonal depression

Matt P
Matt P
11 months ago
Reply to  johnny banks

These e-bikes are insane. They have no business being in bike lanes. I am constantly being buzzed by crazed e-bikers who don’t even bother to call out where they are.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  johnny banks

Was the rider testifying before city council when they hit you?

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

They were setting a bad example. Isn’t that enough?

Zaphod
11 months ago

Distracted driving is abhorrent behavior full stop.
Normalizing it doesn’t make it safer or in any way ok.
The comments saying that it’s NoBigDeal I find really surprising and odd, given how this is a site for vulnerable road users who will suffer the most when an automobile driver fails to yield, fails to react or fails to maintain their lane.
It’s a big story and the message it sends is reflective of absence of concern, ego and poor planning by Wheeler. In other words, it could have easily been avoided.

We should hold our elected officials to do better.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
11 months ago
Reply to  Zaphod

But does he pay his credit cards off?

X
X
11 months ago

it’s ok just give that little wave like you do and keep driving you are the important person

Racer X
Racer X
11 months ago

This type of ‘no comment’ comment from a public elected official is deafening in its silence.
A simple “mea culpa” / “my bad” + “I promise to never again” would put it to rest for most.
But now we have a “Zoom Driver Gate” / “Drive Like the Mayor” situation…that will erode any effort at communicating on traffic safety or vision zero by him or his office now.

Orig JF
Orig JF
11 months ago

Although the act itself is not illegal, it is no in line with the City of Portland Personnel Manual.
“Mobile Electronic Device Limitations.* No person shall drive on City business
while operating a cell phone or other mobile electronic device, either with or
without a hands-free accessory except as follows:…”

Voice calls (or video calls) are not one of the exceptions.

I am glad the City of Portland Health and Safety staff realize the dangers of distracted driving and encourage employees to not use electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/article/12247

David Hampsten
11 months ago

We all know he is paid with city money, but that’s not quite the same thing as a “city employee”. Because he is elected rather than appointed or hired, he has a lot of “legislative immunity” and is likely exempt from a lot of rules for city staff.

David Hampsten
11 months ago

An elected official?

David Hampsten
11 months ago

Yes, they do. The personnel manual is called an election. The manual varies constantly on what their conduct should be. Their conduct is policed by voters and they are constantly harassed by the press, other politicians, and pretty much everyone in the known universe. It’s beyond me why anyone would choose to run for any office, particularly in Portland.

The real power in Portland city government lies in the bureaucracy, in the form of administrative decision-making. The more splintered and chaotic the elected form of government in the city is, the more powerful the bureaucracy and the decisions it makes (or the more damaging from a lack of decision-making.) Which is why there has to be such a thick and rigid personnel manual for (appointed) city staff.

David Hampsten
11 months ago

Heather Hafer is giving you a non-answer: City staff are held accountable to their superiors and can presumably be fired. No appointed city employee is held accountable to city voters.

And why are you consulting OMF in the first place? Shouldn’t you be asking the City Attorney?

caleb
caleb
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

You’re saying the mayor is de facto not a city employee while JM was saying the mayor is de jure a city employee. Perhaps you’re both correct?

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

OK, you left town, so you are no longer invested in or endangered by Mr. Wheeler’s poor practices. It’s easy to be complacent about lameness that’s never going to insert a fender into your personal space. So many righteous jackasses can now say Well the Mayor Does It.

David Hampsten
11 months ago
Reply to  X

X, you are mostly correct, I’m not as much invested in Portland now as when I lived there for 18 years, but I do still care about the community and its residents. I also care about the very real impact the city has on the nation. But yes, I have a new bunch of clowns in my new community and state to worry about, people who make Portland look well-run and civilized.

Caleb, when bureaucrats and elected officials all act like idiots, it’s hard to tell them apart, but it also helps me to appreciate the few adults in the room all the more.

(It’s a new week, so I’m sure this conversation has moved on by now.)

Caleb
Caleb
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

An election is not a personnel manual. You’re making rhetorical arguments against elected officials being public employees when you could merely recognize they are public employees despite facing different bureaucratic and social consequences than do appointed public employees.

Caleb
Caleb
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Having “legislative immunity” does not preclude an elected official from being a city employee.

Clem Fandango
Clem Fandango
11 months ago

Hahahahaha… this story has gone national. They even (properly) shout out bikeportland.org:

https://nypost.com/2021/12/18/portland-mayor-votes-on-the-phone-while-driving/

caleb
caleb
11 months ago
Reply to  Clem Fandango

Excellent. Maybe some people will reconsider their reckless driving habits. Maybe my elderly dad will even stop texting and driving when I repeatedly tell him doing so is a bad habit every time I witness him doing it. But I doubt so, considering our selfish tendencies, those even exhibited in this comment section by people excusing the mayor’s distracted driving.

eawriste
eawriste
11 months ago
Reply to  Clem Fandango

Not exactly the pinnacle of journalism. Certainly one of the better articles since they announced they were the most read Sunday Tabloid.

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  eawriste

Beating out the Oregonian? It’s a tabloid, and if they still have print edition, it comes out on Sunday.