A closer look

This new law does not apply to the following:

• Using hands-free or built-in devices if the driver is at least 18 years old

• Using a single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the device

• Summoning medical help when no one else is available to call

• When parked safely at the side of the road or a designated parking spot

• Truck or bus drivers following the federal rules for CDL holders

• Using a two-way radio in the scope of employment

• Emergency vehicle operators in the scope of employment

• HAM radio operators age 18 years or older

Oregon’s distracted driving law went into effect Oct. 1, but an addition to the law will allow the court to waive the fine for first-time offenders who attend a distracted driving avoidance course.

The law states it is illegal to drive while holding or using an electronic device. While the law has good intentions, it has been a challenge for law enforcement to determine whether drivers are using their phones.

“(The La Grande Police department) has issued five warnings and four citations related to that new statute,” LGPD Lt. Gary Bell said. “It’s not easier to enforce this now than it was before the change.”

Bell said it’s easy for drivers to conceal phone use. Law enforcement remains diligent, however. On several occasions, LGPD has sent out unmarked patrol vehicles to look for drivers using their phones.

“Speeding or failing to stop at stop signs are much easier to detect and enforce,” Bell said. “When you’re talking about cellphone use inside of a vehicle, it’s much more difficult to detect or to have enough reasonable suspicion. It’s easy for a person to text, and more often than not it’s below the line of sight.”

Union County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Craig Ward said the La Grande School District’s Student Resource Officer has issued nine or 10 citations since the law was enacted in October for those driving through a school zone using their cellphone. The fine is double in that case, he said. Ward said he hasn’t written any himself, but has given many warnings.

“(Cellphone use) is still an issue,” Ward said.

For the complete story, see the Dec. 27 edition of The Observer.