Effective Jan. 1, 2010, Oregon banned the use of handheld cell phones to talk or text while driving. Since then, an enormous number of things have changed in our cars, on our roads... and on our devices.
Consider that, on Jan. 1, 2010, none of the following things existed: Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok, Pinterest, Facebook's Messenger app, the iPhone 4, and the first Samsung Galaxy S.
As our gadgets have become more complex, the law has sometimes struggled to keep up. Over the years, Oregon’s lawmakers and transportation officials have tweaked the state's original 2009 distracted driving law to close unintended loopholes, increase fines and strengthen enforcement in an effort to keep pace with the ever-changing world of technology.
But the problem remains persistent. The last decade has taught us that stopping distracted driving is going to resemble the campaigns against drunk driving and smoking. Like those other issues, it must combine education with enforcement, and must take a long view. Changing deeply ingrained habits is a generations-long challenge.
Statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show distracted driving consistently is a factor in about 10% of fatal car crashes, around 18% of crashes in which someone is injured but no one dies, and around 15% of crashes that result in property damage only. These numbers have remained more or less constant throughout the 2010s.
According to ODOT's figures, nearly 23,800 Oregon crashes that occurred from 2015 to 2019 were the result of distracted drivers. These incidents led to more than 23,400 injuries and 158 deaths.
Oregon’s distracted driving ban allows drivers 18 and over to operate a motor vehicle and use a phone provided they are using a hands-free device (such as a headset). Drivers under 18 are barred from using a cell phone while behind the wheel, even with a headset. All drivers, regardless of age, are forbidden to text while driving.
The law allows for “primary enforcement” for both calling and texting, meaning a police officer or other law enforcement official can pull you over solely for violating the distracted driving ban. A first offense is a Class B traffic violation, incurring a presumptive fine of $265 with a possible maximum fine of $1,000. (When the law was originally passed, distracted driving was classified as a Class D violation, and the fines were much lower.) If the driver's distracted state is judged to have contributed to a crash then, under ORS 811.507, Section 5b, a first offense goes from a Class B to a Class A violation. That raises the presumptive fine to $440 and the maximum to $2,000. Multiple convictions within a 10-year period cause the fines to rise significantly.
Obviously, these laws matter to you if you're the person receiving the citation. They also matter, though, if you're the person who was injured as a result of a distracted driver. Oregon, like all other states, recognizes a legal doctrine called "negligence per se." This doctrine says that, if the negligent driver who injured you was also cited by the police for a traffic or criminal violation, then you potentially can use that in your injury case.
To assert negligence per se, you must have proof that the other driver violated a statute. That proof can take various forms like an eyewitness statement, an admission from the at-fault driver or evidence taken directly from the driver's cell phone.
After that, you have to establish that you were a "member of the class intended by the legislature to be protected" and that the harm you endured was "of the kind which the statute was intended to prevent." If you do that, then the defendant is presumed to be negligent, thereby allowing you to bypass certain steps in terms of proving negligence. Clearly, distracted driving laws exist to protect others on the road from the added safety risks a driver's inattention represents, and these laws exist to prevent the property damage, injuries, and deaths caused by a distracted driver's negligent operation of their vehicle.
If you believe distracted driving may have played a role in the vehicle crash that injured you, consulting the skilled Oregon distracted driving attorneys at Kaplan Law, LLC, is a prudent step to take. We can help you explore your options and decide whether distraction was a factor in the crash. This may allow you to receive compensation for injuries, including wage loss, unpaid medical bills, and pain and suffering.