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Oregon Lawmakers Consider New Distracted Driving Measures

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 387,000 people were injured in car accidents that involved a distracted driver in 2011. While distraction can arise from a variety of sources, mobile electronic devices are becoming an increasingly pervasive danger to motorists, pedestrians and anyone else on or near the road.

There are three broad categories of distraction that can affect a driver: manual (taking one’s hands off the wheel), cognitive (taking one’s mind off the task at hand), and visual (taking one’s eyes off the road). Talking on a handheld cellphone involves two of the major forms of distraction, manual and cognitive. Texting on a mobile device is one of the most dangerous distracting activities a driver can engage in, because it involve all three major types of distraction.

Oregon already has laws in place that prohibit talking or texting behind the wheel on any handheld electronic device. But, in a proposed measure that is picking up steam, state legislators may be substantially increasing the penalties distracted drivers could face.

Bill would double current fines for drivers who talk or text with a handheld device

Under current Oregon law, someone who uses a handheld mobile device to talk or text while driving risks a $250 fine. If passed, Senate Bill 9 would double the maximum fine to $500. In addition, texting or talking on a handheld phone would become a Class C violation, an enhancement from its current status as a Class D violation.

Senator Peter Courtney, the Oregon Senate President, has been the most tireless advocate of the measure. According to the Oregonian, Courtney decided to advocate for tougher distracted driving penalties after he saw a video showing that texting behind the wheel was more dangerous than drunk driving. Courtney reduced his original proposal of a $1,000 fine in order to shore up his support among other lawmakers.

The bill also includes a $130,350 appropriation to put up signs along state highways that would inform drivers of the new fines. Although the current cellphone ban has been in place for a couple of years, many drivers are still unaware that using a handheld device behind the wheel is illegal. Talking on a cellphone utilizing hands free technology would remain legal under the new law.

Senate Bill 9 is now in the full Ways and Means Committee; it will move to the floors of the Senate and House next. Its recent momentum seems to indicate that passage in 2013 is likely.

Distracted drivers who cause a crash can face civil liability, not just fines

Fighting distracting driving can save lives and prevent serious injury. While fines can help make people think twice before texting, the most damaging potential consequences of distraction behind the wheel is causing an accident.

When someone is injured in a crash caused by a distracted driver, the victim is entitled to compensation from the distracted driver or his or her insurance company. A distracted driver who was acting unsafely must compensate victims regardless of whether the particular distraction involved was prohibited by statute or not. That being said, the fact that a driver was violating the law by talking or texting on a handheld device may be useful evidence in proving fault in the crash.

If you have been injured by a distracted driver, or if a family member has been killed, you need legal help to secure the full amount of compensation you are entitled to. Talk to an Oregon car accident attorney today to begin building your case.

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