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

Posted by on December 15th, 2021 at 5:12 pm

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
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Charley

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
Guest

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
Guest
Charley

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

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

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
Guest
Charley

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
Guest
Aliss Hauser

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

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

how could anyone think this is ok?

bendite
Guest
bendite

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

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

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
Guest
Aliss Hauser

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
Guest
pruss2ny

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
Guest
Peter Robinson

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 (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

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
Guest
David Hampsten

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
Guest
Peter Robinson

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 (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

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
Guest
bendite

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

Watts
Guest
Watts

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
Guest
David Hampsten

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

X
Guest
X

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
Guest
bendite

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
Guest
CaptainKarma

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
Guest
Keith

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
Guest
Thomas Welborn

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
Guest
Tim

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

Pythia
Guest
Pythia

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 (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

That’s called a nightmare.

Frank S.
Guest
Frank S.

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

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

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

Frank S.
Guest
Frank S.

While ignoring the crimes of the current one.

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

What crimes?

bendite
Guest
bendite

Hunter’s laptop!

X
Guest
X

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
Guest
Thomas Menderhas

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
Guest
bendite

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
Guest
Chris I

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
Guest
bjorn

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

Jens Lentach
Guest
Jens Lentach

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.

johnny banks
Guest
johnny banks

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

Matt P
Guest
Matt P

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
Guest
Watts

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

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

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

Zaphod
Guest

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
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

But does he pay his credit cards off?

Orig JF
Guest
Orig JF

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

Clem Fandango
Guest
Clem Fandango

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
Guest
caleb

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
Guest
eawriste

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

X
Guest
X

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