Oregon ready to roll out new distracted driving law with stiffer - KPTV - FOX 12

Oregon ready to roll out new distracted driving law with stiffer penalties

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SALEM, OR (KPTV) -

Starting Sunday, drivers who get caught red-handed with their phones or other devices will face stiffer penalties and repeat offenders could get jail time.

The Oregon Department of Transportation was joined by lawmakers and police Friday morning to talk about the new law before it takes effect.

ODOT streamed the event live on its Facebook page and joked about hoping people weren’t watching it while driving, before taking a serious tone about the prevalence of phones and social media in everyday life that permeates into driving habits.

Officials stressed the law is designed to save more lives, and called distracted driving an “addiction” and “epidemic.”

When House Bill 2597 takes effect Sunday, drivers will no longer be able to hold or touch their cell phones or any other electronic device while driving.

That means you’ll need to be hands-free and using options like Bluetooth or a mounted device.

Drivers under the age of 18 can’t use phones or other electronic devices under any circumstances.

There are two big exceptions to the law: Drivers, including teens, can still use communication devices that are built into cars – for example, an in-dash navigation system.

Drivers can also can use a single swipe to activate or deactivate a device or app while driving.

If you get caught breaking the law, the first fine goes up from the current $160 to $260.

Those who get convicted of three offenses in 10 years can spend up to a year in jail.

ODOT administration Troy Costales said data shows fatal crashes have increased by 50 percent in each of the last two years – ending a previous decade-long streak where traffic deaths had been on the decline.

According to ODOT, nearly 500 people died in traffic accidents last year.

Costales said in many cases, they can only make an educated guess that distracted driving was to blame.

“We see too often, crashes where the car has left the roadway for unknown reasons, but we don’t have the facts behind it to say what was going on,” Costales said. “It really leads us to believe that someway, somehow, some sort of distraction was engaged in that particular driver’s decision or lack of decision, when the car left the roadway.”

Oregon State Police Caption Teresa Bloom said the law closes loopholes and will make it easier for troopers to enforce.

“In the past law it didn’t specify – it really talked about talking and text messaging,” Bloom said. “This law is you can’t use the device in any way. You can’t hold it in your hand, which clears up the conversation on the road side as far as what they’re doing with it.”

AT&T also had representatives at the press conference to promote its ‘It Can Wait’ campaign that encourages people to put the phones away while driving.

Officers, lawmakers and ODOT employees got to test out AT&T’s virtual reality distracted-driving car, which is designed to show how trying to multi-task behind the wheel can turn deadly in an instant.

You can find more information about Oregon’s new law and some tips and apps to help you stay safe behind the wheel here: drivehealthy.org.

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