New distracted driving laws mean multiple offenses result in ‘elevated sanctions’

This summer, you may want to think twice before you pull out your phone during that long road trip or quick drive down the freeway. As of July 1, distracted driving fines will begin to add up and could even result in jail time for drivers who violate the law after three or more offenses.

“The distracted driving laws are important because anytime you take your eyes off the road, you are creating a substantial hazard to yourself and anyone else that’s around you,” said Officer John Loos of the University of Oregon Police Department.

The Oregon Department of Transportation states on their website that distracted driving “occurs when a driver diverts attention to something not related to driving that uses the driver’s eyes, ears or hands.” This could mean texting, finding the perfect radio station, or grabbing something out of your glove box.

The current distracted driving legislation, which bans any kind of distracted driving, was enacted on Oct. 1, 2017, after an earlier law outlawed only texting while driving.

In Eugene, the minimum fine for a first-time offense is $300; however, it is possible to get the fine waived for a first-time offense by taking a class, but the violation remains on your permanent record. Offenders who violate the law three or more times can potentially receive a six-month jail sentence.

Although distracted driving can take many forms, police officers are mostly concerned with cell phone use. Eugene Traffic Enforcement Officer Doug Ledbetter said now that the laws are more restrictive some drivers will attempt to hide their cell phone use, and he said it’s not too difficult to spot distracted drivers.

“You’ll see people glancing down away from the road, and if they’re looking down two, three, four times when they’re stopped, that tells me they’re looking at something, something is interesting down there and it’s probably their phone,” he said.

John Hankemeier, a public information officer with the Eugene Police Department, said that Eugene police officers have given out 204 citations for distracted driving since October 2017. Ledbetter said that drivers often try to use their phone at a stoplight, which violates the law.

Deepika Viswanath, a senior linguistics major, said she sees people on their phones “all the time, especially at red lights.”

“I’ll look at them and they’ll be looking down at their phone and sometimes they’re slow to go when the green light is on.”  

Senior journalism and anthropology major Romario Garcia attributes distracted driving to people being too attached to their phones. He predicts that even with higher fines, drivers may not change their behavior.

“I feel like it’s still going to happen,” he said. “I see people each and every day getting way too attached to their phone.”

Both Garcia and Viswanath cited Facebook videos as reasons they don’t text and drive, as the videos show the dangers that distracted driving presents.

So what is allowed?  As long as the driver is not holding the phone, they can use one touch or swipe to answer a call, change a song, or start navigation while on the road. Drivers over the age of 18 are allowed to use hands-free devices to make calls. It is legal to use your phone to call 911 while driving, but for all other uses, the car must be safely parked.

Ledbetter had some straightforward advice for people who may be tempted to pick up their phone while behind the wheel:

“Put the phone away. Very few of us are doing things where we need to be 100 percent in contact with our phone,” he said. “Put it in your purse, your coat pocket, or your console and you get where you’re going.”

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Emily Matlock

Emily Matlock

Emily Matlock is a news reporter for the Daily Emerald. She is a senior studying journalism and Spanish and she's interested in cross-cultural communication. As a native Oregonian, Emily enjoys hiking and exploring Eugene.

Email: [email protected]
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