Oregon bill would fine drivers $2,000 for texting
Other proposed legislation in the state calls for a $1,000 maximum penalty, and a bill in California would make it illegal for teen drivers to use any type of technology in the car.
Still don’t want to put away that phone while driving? Maybe the threat of a $2,000 fine could be enough of a deterrent, if Oregon lawmakers have their way.
That proposed heavy penalty is one sign that current distracted-driving laws might not be enough. Despite hands-free cellphone laws in many states and localities and in-car technology that lets drivers receive and reply to text messages hands-free, it seems some drivers still won’t put their portable devices down.
State legislators in Oregon want to make texting drivers pay a maximum fine of $2,000, while their colleagues in California have introduced a bill that would bar teen motorists from touching any type of technology -- even those that are hands-free, built into the car or voice-activated.
Two bills in the Oregon legislature aim to increase the maximum penalty for using a cellphone while driving, which currently is $110 for a first offense and carries a maximum penalty of $500. Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney introduced Senate Bill 9 to increase the fine to $260 for a first-time offense and the maximum penalty to $1,000. The even tougher Bill 2790 in the Oregon House would raise the fine for a first-time offense to $435 and the maximum penalty for texting and driving to $2,000.
"You don't have to drive much to see people texting," Courtney told The Oregonian. "It's everywhere. It's going on all the time."
According to The Oregonian, accidents on the state’s roads caused by mobile phones peaked at 312 in 2009, the year lawmakers implemented the maximum penalty of $500 for drivers not using a device hands-free. The number of accidents dropped initially, but has since crept up to 269 in 2011.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-to-2 in support of Courtney’s bill this week, with the committee's two Republicans voting against before it went on to the Senate floor. Republican Sen. Betsy Close said she's worried that the fines would have an unfair impact on young drivers.
That's exactly the point of a separate bill proposed in California. While the state already bars minors from using smartphones and hands-free devices while driving, new legislation introduced in the state Senate would expand those rules to outlaw all technology use by teens behind the wheel.
Senate Bill 194 by Democrat Cathleen Galgiani would prohibit motorists under 18 from using any "electronic wireless communications device." The goal is to ensure that drivers with provisional licenses don't use touch-screen or even voice-command technologies in new cars.
The fines for drivers caught breaking the law would be the same for violating the current hands-free law -- $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent violations. According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, those fines would rise significantly with court fees.
Galgiani introduced the bill after hearing from the California Highway Patrol, which sponsored the bill, about “the dangerous and sometimes deadly effects of young teen drivers being distracted behind the wheel,” her spokesman Thomas Lawson said to the Tribune. According to Lawson, the CHP estimates that half of all teens pulled over were texting or using other technology at the time.
"Even though they may not be manually distracted, they could be visually or cognitively distracted by using Siri and Bluetooth technology and touch-screen technology on the vehicles," Lawson said. "This hopefully allows them to focus on the one task at hand."
Other states have cracked down even harder. Last June, a Massachusetts court sentenced a teenager to a year in jail after the state proved he texted immediately before causing a fatal crash.
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