Observer editorial board

Not many will admit it, but the fact is a lot of us text while we are behind the wheel. And many more talk on the phone while driving.

Both of those by now ingrained habits for most of us will be under the spotlight at the start of next month when the state’s new cellphone law goes into effect. And that is a good thing.

The fine for distracted driving and using an electronic device — such as a cellphone — will be more punitive under the new law. For example, a first offense that does not contribute to a crash could translate into a $1,000 fine. A second offense, or if a first offense causes a car crash, carries a maximum fine of $2,500. A third offense in a 10-year period carries a $2,500 fine and a possible six-month jail sentence.

In other words, the state is getting serious about distracted driving, as it should.

That’s because distracted driving/cellphone use behind the wheel can be, and often is, a dangerous business in Oregon and across the nation. According to the state transportation department, between 2011 and 2015, drivers using cellphones caused 917 crashes that killed 14 people and inflicted 1,330 injuries. Those are eye-opening numbers. Especially when the event that triggered the crashes — cellphone use — could be easily avoided.

The fact is even one crash that injures or kills an Oregonian is one crash too many. The new law’s graduated penalty system, which at first glance may seem steep, is appropriate.

Cellphones have changed our culture. And they are a useful, handy tool most of us count on. Yet their very usefulness has lulled drivers into a sense of apathy regarding just how dangerous it is to utilize them behind the wheel. For a car accident to occur, it takes only a few seconds, usually far too fast for the driver to react to avoid a collision. Add that fact to the distraction of talking on the phone — or worse, texting — and a fine recipe for disaster is in play.

If there were not such sobering statistics mentioned above, a fair argument could be made for the state stepping a little too far into the personal business and lives of its residents. However, the numbers do not lie. Cellphone use and distracted driving have obviously become an automobile liability.

The new law is the right step at the right time. It is true that its fine details are not going to make a lot of us happy. Let’s face it, we all have spent time talking on the phone and texting while driving, and for the most part we get away with it. Usually. But not always.