Oregon Senate passes bill strengthening distracted driving law, bill heads back to House

(File Photo)

Oregon lawmakers want to make sure they have all the bases covered to curb distracted driving.

The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill to ensure that in addition to not holding a cellphone in your hand and talking on it while driving, you aren’t using it or any “mobile electronic device” for things like watching videos, emailing, texting, or even to find your way around.

Lawmakers want to pass House Bill 2597 because a 2015 court decision decided Oregon's distracted driving law only prohibited texting and talking. The literal interpretation of the current law allows drivers to use their phone to search the internet or browse social media.

In this newly passed bill, the device can only be used while driving if it’s a permanent part of the vehicle.

“What this means is if the vehicle is factory installed and outfitted or if it is a secondary after-market product that is installed, either such as bolted in, mounted in some way in the vehicle where it is permanently there, those things are not, and I’ll say that again, not mobile electronic devices,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the carrier of the bill, during floor debate.

It is not a mobile electronic device if it can be removed from its cradle to avoid being stolen, he added.

The bill allows for CBs and ham radios.

But there was quite a bit of controversy over whether ham radio operators were truly exempt from the bill. Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, wanted to refer the bill back to committee where it could be amended so “ham radio operators are summarily exempt from this bill.” His motion to do so failed, however.

Oregon's House is scheduled to take up the bill Friday to consider Senate amendments.

If lawmakers pass the bill and Gov. Kate Brown signs it into law, it will go into effect Oct. 1.

A similar bill in Washington is already in effect.

The Bill: House Bill 2597 B

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