Oregon's New Distracted Driving Law

Sep 26, 2017

In August of 2017 Oregon law makers signed HB 2597 into law. Often referred to as the Distracted Driving Law, HB 2597 adds a series of new restrictions on what you're allowed to do with your phone. Unfortunately, coverage of this bill and what exactly it means for you as an individual has left most underwhelmed.

Most people I know have a great deal of difficulty parsing the actual bill's text, so I've created a summary of that in an attempt to help. The point of this post is not to weigh the merits of the bill; I am simply trying to help disseminate knowledge.

One last thing before we get to the bill... I am not a lawyer; I am a programmer. If you get a ticket, this blog post will not help you in any legal sense. Everything I write here should be taken with a giant box of salt (preferably kosher). Do not consider this blog post legal advice.

Defining Driving

Section 1 defines driving as operating a motor vehicle including the time at which you're at a temporary stop, such as traffic, a red light, stop signs, etc.

Section 1 specifically excludes the following from the definition of driving

  • The vehicle is pulled over on the side of or off a roadway
  • The vehicle is in a designated parking space
  • The vehicle is parked on a roadway to conduct utility work.

Defining Devices

Section 1 defines several devices.

  • Hands-free accessory: An attachment or prebuilt feature to a mobile communication/electronic device (permanent or not) that allows a person to maintain both hands on the steering wheel.
  • Mobile communication device: a text messaging or wireless, two-way communication device designed to receive and transmit voice or text messages
  • Mobile electronic device: an electronic device that is not permanently installed in a motor vehicle. The list includes (but is not limited to) a device capable of any of the following:
    • text messaging
    • email
    • voice communication
    • entertainment
    • navigation
    • web browsing

The distinction between mobile communication device and mobile electronic device is rather slight. The former is basically a 90s era flip phone. The latter is the smartphone you likely have within arm’s reach.

The Ban

Section 1 part 2 states that you've committed the offense of driving a vehicle while using a mobile device if you do one of the following:

  • Hold a mobile electronic device in your hand
  • Use either a mobile communication/electronic device for any purpose.

Section 1 part 3 then specifically states that this section does not apply to:

  • (3a) people who are activating or deactivating the device or a function of the device
  • (3b-e) A variety of people who drive professionally and need to use a device in their day to day jobs. This is, however, limited to the scope of your employment. Calling your Mom while driving an ambulance is not going to be covered.

Besides the few exceptions in part 3, part 2 bans basically everything you can do with a device while driving.

Use of Affirmative Defense

If you still want to use a mobile device while driving, Part 4 lists a few affirmative defenses. In case you're not aware, an affirmative defense is when you're guilty of something, but are able to provide mitigating/eliminating circumstances that excuse the behavior. This is like my 3 year old daughter saying, "yeah, but...".

An affirmative defense, is not guaranteed to get you off the hook like an exception. If the cop and judge think that you were distracted despite your affirmative defense, you can and likely will get a ticket. This is the same rule by which you can get a DUI while having a BAC below .08.

These include

  • Summoning or providing medical or other emergency help if no other person in the vehicle is capable of doing so
  • Being 18 years of older and using a hands-free device
  • Using a medical device
  • Various things you can do within the scope of certain employments such as commerical drivers using a CB radio

The Takeaway

Not that much has changed has changed for adults related to the use of your phone's telecommunication usage. You still need to use a hands-free setup there. The major change for you is that the law has now been rewritten to include the rest of your smartphone's capabilities and cover other electronic items that are considered to be a similar distraction.

Like adults, most of the rules have not changed for minors. As in the past, minors are not allowed to talk on their phone with or without a hands-free device, unlike adults who have that ability listed as an affirmative defense. The only affirmative defense that covers minors is using a phone to call 911 in a valid emergency and provided that there is no one else in the vehicle who can do so for them. Section 4 a

It appears that you may still play music and navigate using your phone, and that the device can be visible. You cannot, however, interact with it in any way while operating your vehicle. Park the vehicle, then interact with the phone as needed.