Increased penalties for distracted driving

POLK COUNTY — If you haven’t already, starting Sunday, you have more incentive to put down the phone — or tablet or laptop — while you are driving.

House Bill 2597, passed by the Oregon Legislature earlier this year, applies stiffer penalties to those caught driving distracted. Prohibited device use includes texting, talking, entertainment, navigation, accessing the internet or sending emails if it takes more than a single touch or swipe.

The only legal way to complete those tasks while holding the device in your hand is to pull over and park safely. Red lights and stop signs don’t count.

Those restrictions don’t apply to those 18 years old and older using a hands-free accessory or to people who need to use mobile devices while driving for their job — such as emergency workers, commercial truck drivers, school bus drivers — or those using a two-way radio device as part of their work

People can use a phone to call 911 while driving if no one else is in the car is capable of doing it, according to the new law.

A first violation is considered a class B traffic violation and can come with a presumptive fine of $260, but could be as much as $1,000.

A second conviction in a 10-year period or first violation that contributes to a crash is a class B misdemeanor and comes with a $435 presumptive fine with a maximum of $2,500.

People with a third offense in 10 years can face a six-month jail sentence and $2,500 maximum fine.

For more information, see “Distracted Driving” at www.oregon.gov/ODOT/Safety/Pages/index.aspx.

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