Hang up and drive: Oregon's cell phone law takes effect Jan. 1

Hang up and drive: Oregon's cell phone law takes effect Jan. 1

EUGENE, Ore. – The days of holding a cell phone to your ear while you drive are limited.  Oregon's new cell phone law takes effect Jan. 1, 2010.  It's designed to help drivers focus on the road and keep both hands on the wheel.

What exactly does the law ban?

Cell phone use – talking or texting – is banned unless the driver is using a hands-free device like a Bluetooth headset.

Can I be pulled over for talking on my cell phone?

Yes, the law is a primary offense. "So if an officer's driving, patrolling or whatever and happens to see a citizen operating a motor vehicle and using a cell phone, that's enough probable cause to stop the vehicle," said Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Rick Hamilton.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes, in cases of emergency. There are other exceptions, including some for people who are providing public safety services or emergency services personnel. Read about the exceptions here.


What about teen drivers?

Drivers under age 18 are not permitted to use a cell phone or a hands-free device.

What is the penalty?

There has been some confusion on the fine charged to motorists who violate Jan. 1's hands-free mobile phone law. Oregon's Department of Transportation had previously reported a fine for Class D charges in the $90 range. Traffic violations in the “Class D” category include driving one to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.

However, Oregon State Police's base-fine list shows Class D traffic-violation fines starting at $142 on state highways. Meanwhile, a source with Eugene Police reports that Eugene's municipal court has set the base fine at $115.

Assistant director for the Oregon State Police patrol division, Lieutenant Ethan Wilson, said fine discrepancies are for two reasons:

  • $142 is the standard statewide bail schedule set for state courts. Municipalities, such as Eugene, can set their own base fines. For traffic violations on Oregon's state highways, such as Interstate 5, the state rate likely would apply. However, "if you have an officer from a police department who happens to make a traffic stop on I-5 in a municipal area, they can cite [the driver] into their municipal court," Wilson said. "State police can only cite into Justice of the Peace/justice courts or circuit courts."
     
  • Oregon's base-fine state rate also recently was raised. "For a Class D violation, $97 used to be the standard for state courts," Wilson said. The fines went up Oct. 1.

Do I have to pay a lot for a headset?

While many headsets cost upwards of $50, there are wired headsets (think: headphones) in the $10 range. However, in the many states the law also requires that drivers must be able to hear emergency vehicles if they were to come up behind the vehicle. This law makes it illegal to wear a head phone on both ears.

For example, Washington state law (RCW 46.37.480) makes it so that "No person shall operate any motor vehicle on a public highway while wearing any headset or earphones connected to any electronic device" where the "headset or earphones muffle or exclude other sounds."