Hands-Free Really Means Just That: Oregon Stiffens Ban on Distracted Driving

October 1, 2017, marks the start of stiffer fines and tougher penalties for distracted driving with cell phones.

Oregon had allowed limited use of smart phones while driving, but beginning October 1, it is now illegal for drivers to use or hold an electronic mobile device. You are allowed a single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate a device or function, but do not talk on speaker mode while holding your phone, or you could be looking at a fine of $130 to $1,000 for your first offense, $220 to $2,500 for your second offense and a minimum of $2,000 and up to 6 months in jail for a third offense.

This revision to Oregon law expands the distracted driving law from the existing ban on cellphones in the driver’s seat to include all electronic mobile devices. Phone calls are still allowed if the driver uses a hands-free device, such as a Bluetooth headset, or routing calls to the vehicles stereo system — but only if the phone is not in the driver’s hand. The law uses the phrase “mobile electronic device” rather than “communication device” to account for the array of modern devices and their uses, and specifies that “driving” includes idling in a traffic jam or at a light. A driver can only start using the device if the vehicles has “stopped in a location where it can safely remain stationary,” such as a parking space or pulled off to the side of the road.

There are some exceptions for things like medical emergencies and truck and bus drivers, but Oregon has made it clear that hands-free really does mean what it says.

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