In Salem, the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning once again postponed action on Rep. Andy Olson’s bill to outlaw the use of any mobile electronic device while driving. It would be understandable if legislators had second thoughts about this bill.
Oregon started banning the use of cell phones while driving years ago, for minors in 2007 and for anyone in 2009. In 2013 the legislators stiffened the penalties. Still, drivers have been on the phone a lot.
In 2015, the Court of Appeals ruled that the ban applied only to telephoning and texting, not to any other use of a cell phone while driving. This led ODOT’s task force on distracted driving to propose a more sweeping ban, and Olson, R-Albany, sponsored the result, House Bill 2597-A, which has passed the House.
The trouble is that the bill attempts to outlaw the use of any “mobile electronic device,” not just those used for communication, while driving. This sounds as though it would be against the law to drive while wearing a Fitbit bracelet or an electronic watch.
The bill specifically bans using a mobile navigation device while driving. And by “mobile,” it means not permanently attached to the vehicle. So a mapping app on the screen of a smart phone sitting in a dashboard bracket would violate the law. But consulting a regular map, or even a scribbled note of directions, would be all right, even though that can be far more distracting.
The bill makes it illegal to use a mobile electronic device “for any purpose” while driving. So if your cell phone is switched off, sitting in the console tray, and you pick it up to put it in a pocket, you might be breaking the law. And if a cop sees you do it, you might be pulled over in order to get a $1,000 ticket.
The idea is to discourage distracted driving, which Olson told the Senate committee causes one in four traffic crashes and injures someone in Oregon every three hours. But there’s no reasonable way to legislate against inattention. And making the attempt, as in this case, sounds more and more as though the next step is to pass a law against picking your nose. (hh)