Starting Jan. 1, 2010, using a cell phone while driving in Oregon could cost you $142.
Oregon's new cell phone law will ban anyone 18 years and older from using mobile communications devices while driving unless you are using a hands-free device. The law bans drivers younger than 18 from using any kind of mobile communications device, whether it's hands free or not.
Oregon will become the seventh state to enact a hand-held ban, joining California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington. The District of Columbia also has a handheld ban. Oregon's new law will be a primary offense, meaning police can ticket drivers for using a hand-held cell phone and not for violating some other law while driving. The new law, though, will provide an exception for drivers who have to use cell phones and the like for work or are using one for an emergency.
Lt. Greg Sherman with the Oregon State Police in Pendleton said the new law is about getting drivers to pay attention to actually driving and improving safety on Oregon roads.
"Right now, what brings our attention to cell phone use is other bad driving," he said.
Sherman explained police look to see what the driver may be doing when a car speeds or changes lane without a turn signals. A cell phone at an ear is the signal the driver may be too distracted to notice what they are doing.
Just last week, Sherman said, a woman using a cell phone passed him at a high speed on a highway while he was in his police car, complete with the dark blue paint, lights on top and license plates indicating it was a state vehicle.
"She didn't even notice she was passing a police vehicle that was obviously a police vehicle," Sherman said.
Even after following her and turning on police lights, Sherman said, she drove another mile. And when he spoke with her, he said she had no idea why he pulled her over.
While the new law will allow hands-free devices, several studies have shown those also impair driving, including a seminal 2006 University of Utah study. Researches there determined drivers that used handheld or hands-free cell phones were as impaired as drunken drivers.
While talking on a cell phone while driving is bad enough, Sherman said, texting while driving is the most dangerous. Drivers can't text, read text messages and keep their attention on the road at the same time.
"It just does not work out," he said.
Sherman also said the new law will be learning experience for police and drivers alike.