Francisca Benitez

In a 2018 analysis comparing fines associated with different types of traffic offenses internationally, the British financial analysis company GoCompare found that Oregon charged the second highest fees in the country, second only to Alaska.

However, Alaska passed a bill in June 2016 that lowered the penalty, making Oregon the state with the highest penalty in the country. The initial texting and driving law in Alaska charged a first-time offender with a misdemeanor, up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. In 2016, SB 123 was introduced and passed, lowering the charge to a regular traffic violation and a fine of $500. A 2017 article in Forbes reported the texting law in Alaska was “quietly scaled back” because a smaller fee was “easier to prosecute.”

In Oregon, drivers face a charge of $1,000 for using a cellphone while driving, which is equivalent to the pay from 5.42 days of work for the average American, according to GoCompare. The fee is twice the $500 fine of the next highest state, which is Indiana. View GoCompare's research here: https://www.gocompare.com/car-insurance/harsher-penalties/#/.

According to Kelly Kapri, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportaion’s Distracted Driving Program, the fee is high in Oregon for a good reason.

“We found it didn’t impact driver behavior unless the fines were high enough,” she said.

The average fee nationally for using a cellphone while driving is $100, according to GoCompare, while the average fee for speeding is $125.50, compared to Oregon’s $160 average speeding ticket, making Oregon rare in that drivers can be charged much more for using a cellphone than for speeding.

The Oregon Distracted Driving Law — or cellphone law — went into effect on Oct.1, 2017, and is part of an effort to reduce distracted driving, which ODOT reported caused 10 percent of Oregon’s traffic fatalities in 2014.

The law makes it illegal to use a cellphone while driving, but an update to the law in January 2018 gave courts the ability to waive the fee for first-time offenders if they take a class on the dangers of distracted driving.

There are certain exceptions to the law — for example, summoning medical help is permitted, and if you are older than 18, you are also allowed to use your cellphone via a hands-free device.

A second offense can result in a fine of $2,500, and a third offense is considered a misdemeanor and can result in a fine of $6,250 and a year of jail time. The fines and penalties are more serious when cellphone use results in a car accident.

The Distracted Driving Task Force, a committee within a ODOT, stated in its February report, “Distraction is often described (as) regarding cellphone use but also occurs with other activities such as consuming food or beverage, performing personal grooming, reading, interacting with a permanently installed device, or interacting with other passengers and pets.” The task force was created to address the problem of distracted driving in Oregon and continues to work on the issue through the Distracted Driving Program.

See complete story in Friday's Observer

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