ODOT has put out a one-page “distracted driving fact sheet.” Unfortunately it does not clarify what was left unclear by the lengthy process in the 2017 legislature of drafting and amending and finally passing House Bill 2597.
The law expands the existing cell phone ban while driving, and it calls for tougher penalties for violations. The ODOT fact sheet reminds us that it takes effect in a couple of weeks, on Oct. 1.
What’s unclear, you ask? Well, ODOT says that under the law “it is illegal to drive while holding or using an electronic device (e.g. cell phone, tablet, GPS, laptop).” That’s fine, and it captures the intent of the chief sponsor, Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, and the other supporters of the bill. But it’s not the only thing that the bill bans, and nobody can say what all it does ban.
In response to an appeals court ruling that held the existing ban applied only to talking and texting, not to other uses of cell phones like checking email, it would have been a simple matter to revise the law to include “any use of a cell phone for which the phone is designed.”
Instead, the law now says that “using a mobile electronic device includes BUT IS NOT LIMITED to … text messaging, voice communication, entertainment, navigation, accessing the Internet or producing electronic mail.” So what else is banned? The law doesn’t say.
In the same way, it says that a “mobile electronic device includes BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO a device capable” of texting, talking, entertainment, producing email and cruising the Internet. So, if the term is not limited to those things, what else does it include? It could include anything you might use in a car.
The law does not apply to using hands-free or built-in devices, and it allows “a single touch or swipe to activate or deactivate the device.” So presumably you are still allowed to turn on the radio manually. But what about changing stations, which sometimes requires more than “a single touch.”
It’s pretty clear that under this new law taking cell phone pictures from my truck will no longer be legal. So when I need a shot of traffic to illustrate a story, I’ll go back to the camera I used before. Whether that is covered by the phrase “not limited to,” I’m not sure. (hh)