Unable to shut up and drive? Fine

Oct. 1 brought a big change, not only for MHCC students, but for all Oregon drivers. House Bill 2597 was passed by the Oregon Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year, and fixed a huge hole in the existing cell phone law regarding motorists.

Basically, before this month, you couldn’t make phone calls or texts from your phone while driving; however, anything else, from watching YouTube, swiping through Tinder, or playing an enthralling round of Clash of Clans, was fair game.

So, until now you could do anything on your phone while driving, except making or receiving a phone call or sending  text message.

With the new bill, you still may use your phone for making calls while behind the wheel, but are very limited. You can use hands-free devices (Bluetooth headsets) and you can also use speakerphone or a voice text app as long as you’re not holding the phone – but you can’t hold the phone as you drive.

You also can’t “touch” the phone while you’re driving. You can do a quick swipe left, or a quick button press to start your music player app, for example, but you can’t hold the phone and scroll through your Facebook or respond to someone via Twitter.

If you want or need to use your phone to make a call or text without a hands-free device, or you need to interact with an app in a significant way, such as scrolling through social media or playing a game, you now must pull the vehicle over, and put it in park.

You don’t have to turn the car completely off, but you must be pulled over safely – not just stopped at a red light or stop sign.

Keep in mind, too, that this new law applies to all electronic devices, including tablets, cameras, smartwatches and GPS devices such as Garmin or Tom-Tom.

You can still use your phone to dial 911 in an emergency situation, but only if you are the only person in the car able to do so.

With the new changes, we thought it would be important to let you all know what to expect and to answer some common questions that people might have.

Q: Can I use a navigation, music or other app while I’m driving?

A: Yes, you can use whatever apps you want to; however, you just can’t be touching the phone or interacting with it in any real way.

Q: Are other GPS devices all right to use?

A: Absolutely, but you have the same restrictions of pulling over to a safe location, and putting your car into park, before picking up the device.

Q: Can I listen to music, audiobooks, podcasts or other audio on my phone while I’m driving?

A: Sure, but you can’t mess with the phone while you’re driving, so make sure you’re playing it on an app that doesn’t require you to hit buttons to change tracks or make selections and can auto-play on its own without you touching the phone.

Q: Can I type in a phone number into my calling app, or an address into my navigation app?

A: No, you must pull over before typing anything into your phone.

Q: Can I check out Twitter or Facebook while I’m driving?

A: No, you need to pull over before using any app that requires you scrolling through or doing anything more than a quick one-time tap or swipe.

Q: Does this law cover other things, like eating, putting on make-up or drinking soda?

A: No, this only covers electronic devices.

Q: How much of a fine is it if I forget, and use my phone?

A: For first-time offenders who break the law but didn’t cause an accident, the presumptive (usual) fine is $260, but, depending on the circumstances, they could face a maximum fine of $1,000. A second-time offender or one who did cause a crash is looking at a presumptive fine of $435, with a max of $2,500.

If you mess up for a third (and any subsequent) offense in a 10-year span, you are in for real trouble, with the fine starting at $2,000, and the offense is considered a misdemeanor crime and could mean jail time.

To boil things down, this is a bill that affects anyone with a car and a cell phone. If you’re driving and want to make or receive calls, make sure to get a hands-free device in order to make them. If you want to use your phone for any reason and need to hold or touch it to do so, pull over to a safe place and put your car in park.

Some people think of these laws as inconvenient, but they are an important change to help keep people safe. The Oregon Department of Transportation’s Distracted Driving Task Force found that over 4,000 crashes in Oregon just during  2014 were caused by distracted driving. It also found that roughly 75 percent of drivers admitted to driving distracted at some point.

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