Distracted Driving Penalties May Get Tougher

Oregon lawmakers will be considering a new bill that would criminalize distracted driving and make penalties closer to that of drunk driving.

Residents in Oregon have seen the state crack down with tougher drunk driving laws over the years. However, at the same time, they have seen a continued threat in the form of people using their smartphones while behind the wheel.

Even with the state ban on handheld use of cell phones while driving, distracted driving continues to be a serious problem around Oregon. A new law has now been introduced in the state legislature that seeks to change all of that.

Prison could be part of a first offense

According to KEPR, the bill proposes that a conviction for a first distracted driving offense could send a driver to prison for up to 12 months or force the driver to pay up to $6,250 in fines. In some cases, a sentence might include both prison and fines.

As with drunk driving, penalties for a second offense would be stricter than first offense with prison terms lasting up to 60 months and fines reaching as high as $125,000.

KOIN indicates that the bill covers only those distractions related to the use of electronic devices, not things like eating or talking with passengers.

State accident statistics support the need

The Oregon Department of Transportation statistics show that 58 people died in distracted driving crashes in Oregon between 2010 and 2014. In that same five-year period, more than 14,000 people were injured in such accidents.

The Tri City Herald reported on an accident in which a 19-year-old woman's phone records pointed to ongoing use of her phone while driving. The distraction led her to move into the oncoming lane of traffic and hit another vehicle. Two people in the other vehicle were injured. The distracted driver herself was killed. In addition to talking on her phone, she was sending and receiving text messages and even using Facebook while driving.

KVAL told of a wreck the week between Christmas and New Year's in which two teenage boys were hospitalized. Investigators are said to suspect that distraction may have caused or contributed to the crash. The driver, their 43-year-old father, died when his truck ran into a tree.

Oregon needs a law that keeps up with technology

The current ban on the handheld use of phones does not accommodate for many other ways in which people use phones while driving. Even reading text messages or looking at social media feeds, for example, can be extremely dangerous and distracting for drivers.

Whether or not the new law will be enacted remains to be seen. In the meantime, people involved in distracted driving crashes should contact an attorney for help.