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By: Greg Jackson, Risk Management Consultant

Between 2011 and 2015, distracted drivers caused just under 10,000 crashes in Oregon that resulted in 54 deaths according to KTVZ. Oregon Department of Transportation’s Distracted Driving Task Force says a crash is caused by distracted driving approximately every three hours. These harrowing statistics led the Oregon Legislature to enact House Bill 2597 which expanded the distracted driving law.


On October 1, 2017, drivers will be forbidden from holding and using a mobile electronic device (cell phone, GPS units, iPad, iPods, etc.) for any purpose. This includes talking (unless utilizing a hands-free accessory), texting, watching movies, emailing, looking at social media, searching the internet, viewing pictures, and more.


House Bill 2597 defines driving as “operating a motor vehicle on a highway or premises open to the public, and while temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device or other momentary delays.” That’s right, you can no longer check email or Facebook while waiting for a red light to turn green. In fact, you will not be allowed to use your phone to check traffic conditions, for directions, or find alternate routes when you are stuck in traffic due to an accident. The law states the driving definition does not apply if you are pulled over on the side of the road, in a designated parking space, or parked in the roadway to conduct necessary utility maintenance work.   


The law does have a few exceptions. If you are employed as a commercial motor vehicle driver or a school bus driver and you are using a mobile electronic device that is within the scope of your duties, you would be allowed to use your phone. Emergency services and forestry drivers are also exempt from this law. If you witness an accident and need to call emergency services,  you can still do this without penalty. The last exception is for those that are conducting utility repairs and maintenance.


The penalty for getting caught using your cell phone has increased and stays with you for 10 years. For a first offense, a driver can take a distracted driving course at your cost and the citation will be removed from your record. If you are caught a second time, the fine can be up to $2,000 and if a third time, you could face a fine and possible jail time. This would all depend on circumstances and whether any type of accident was involved.


For those districts that travel into the state of Washington, you will need to know they have also passed a distracted driving law that went into effect on July 23, 2017. The Washington state law makes it illegal for a driver to hold an electronic device, even when stopped at an intersection or in traffic. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any stricter, Washington also added other provisions in the law like barring eating, putting on make-up, and shaving.


Each district should review their cell phone policy and discuss it with staff. If your district does not have a policy and would like one, please contact the Risk Management Department (email or 503-371-8667) and we can provide you with a sample.