Home Opinion Editorials Hang up and drive: Phone law needs teeth
Hang up and drive: Phone law needs teeth
Our sympathies go out to people who have been hurt or killed on our
highways by inattentive drivers using cell phones or the myriad other
technological distractions in today’s automobiles. Sure, the accidents
are fairly rare. But studies show nationwide 2,600 deaths and many more
injuries per year can be attributed to cell phone use. This is
unacceptable. So it’s a good thing the Oregon House approved a bill
recently to impose a maximum $90 fine on drivers caught texting or
talking on a hand-held cell phone while operating a motor vehicle.
Oregon would join five states that have already banned hand-held cell phone use while driving. Those states are California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington. That sounds impressive. But before we start the celebration, and count the lives saved, let’s look at the bans and what has really happened. In Washington state, for one, compliance has been spotty at best, and the law has proven extremely difficult to enforce.
The Oregon law allows a good compromise out of the contentiousness in that it lets drivers use hands-free devices. Sure, this would cost drivers that still want to yak a little more. But the price of a hands-free device is no more than that of the ticket. That is a small price to pay for relative safety for ourselves and for others who use the public road system. Of course, even hands-free devices would still be somewhat distracting to attention. Still, we think it would reduce accidents and near misses.
It’s important that we find a middle ground on the cell phone issue, because they have become so indispensable to Americans’ quality of life in the 21st century. We also need to make sure any law that goes on the books is enforceable, that law enforcement agencies have the people power to enforce the law and that drivers just don’t scoff at the new restrictions, as they seem to have for the most part in Washington state.
In 2007, Oregon lawmakers made it illegal for teens younger than 18 to talk and drive. But that largely ineffective law said those drivers could only be ticketed if they were stopped for some other infraction. And that made the law difficult to enforce or really do the job it was intended to do.
The bottom line is, drivers have myriad temptations from all sorts of technology that can distract them from the task at hand. Drivers need to not multitask. They need to focus on driving for their own good, for that of their passengers and for everyone else using the streets and highways.
Here’s hoping the new law helps reduce wrecks. But Oregon’s lawmakers should realize one thing: a law with no teeth might soothe a few consciences in the Legislature over a tragic accident or two, and grieving survivors. But a toothless law is still worse than no law at all.