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Deputies ditch the uniform to help catch drivers breaking new cellphone law

A deputy in plain clothes watches for drivers breaking Oregon's new distracted driving law Thursday. (KATU)

ALOHA, Ore. (KATU) - Deputies pulled over dozens of drivers Thursday who were breaking Oregon’s new distracted driving law, thanks to plainclothes deputies on the street.

Washington County sheriff’s deputies used the patrol as an opportunity to educate the public about the new law, often handing out warnings instead of tickets. They made 104 total traffic stops in a five-hour period. At least 73 of those stops were solely for cellphones, including 11 tickets and 62 warnings.

Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., plainclothes “spotters” set up on street corners in Aloha, looking for drivers using their phones. When they spotted someone on their phone, they relayed that information to a group of deputies in patrol cars to eventually make the traffic stop.

“I get the impression that the law is so new, and it is so necessary to text and call, it's kind of part of the culture now. It's going to be a hard one to change. It's a safety issue. We want everyone to be safe out here,” said Deputy Kiah Gravel.

While KATU rode along with Gravel, he made two traffic stops after a spotter found drivers on their phones.

“It's such an ingrained part of the culture that people are having trouble letting it go. With increased enforcement, we can kind of whittle that down and show people that we are serious about enforcing it, and hopefully that will help people move to different mediums,” said Gravel.

Several drivers said they were not aware of the new law or didn’t know the rules. During a traffic stop, Gravel told the driver, “You need to have a Bluetooth device in your vehicle, or you need to have a hands-free mount if you're going to talk on your phone. You can do kind of a one touch, swipe it once, but don't use your GPS, don't text, obviously don't hold it and talk, even if it's on speaker.”

You can find out more about the new Oregon law here.

Because the law is less than two weeks old, deputies handed out significantly more warnings instead of tickets to help teach the public about the new law.

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