Bill would close distracted driving loophole

KATU Photo.

State leaders are considering strengthening distracted driving laws, eliminating a loophole that makes enforcing the current law difficult.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has written the state Legislature in support of House Bill 2597, because a 2015 court decision decided Oregon's distracted driving law only prohibited texting and talking. The literal interpretation of the law allows drivers to use their phone to search the internet or browse social media.

PBOT says closing the loophole is vital to its goal of Vision Zero, which plans to eliminate all traffic deaths in Portland by 2025.

Annette Mower received a distracted driving ticket in 2016 while driving in Portland.

"They told me next time the penalty would be stiffer," she said.

While Mower has sympathy for drivers who need to use their GPS to navigate unfamiliar streets, she says she supports any additional penalties for people who use their phones while driving.

"I do because there's Bluetooth available but still that's distracted," Mower said. "But it's better than looking at your phone all the time."

State Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, says closing the loophole is vital. She says she hasn't gauged the temperature of how the bill is being received in the Legislature, but adds something needs to be done to make state roads safer.

"Anytime your eyes are on your phone, and not the road, that's dangerous," Burdick said.

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