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As distracted driving’s toll rises, enforcement the focus


Safety advocates gathered Thursday in Portland to voice concern about a growing danger: driving while distracted. In Oregon over the past five years, 95 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than 18,400 were injured: and these are preventable crashes, officials said.

These tragedies are occurring all over the country, so on Thursday – for the first time ever – a nationwide enforcement campaign was taking place, amid Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

For four hours, law enforcement officers across the country conducted campaigns where they are on the lookout for distracted drivers, including all over Oregon.

In Oregon, distracted driving costs, not only in the potential loss of life or injury, but in the pocketbook as well:

First offense, not contributing to a crash: Class B violation; Fine up to $1,000. Second offense – or first offense if it contributed to a crash: Class A violation; Fine up to $2,000. Third offense in 10 years: Class B misdemeanor; Fine up to $2,500; Could be up to six months in jail. Throughout 2019, Oregon law enforcement will conduct these campaigns across the state, thanks to a grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“There are three key messages when it comes to distracted driving: enforcement, enforcement and enforcement,” said ODOT Director Matt Garrett. “We want people to get in the habit of putting the phone down – turning it off – so they can focus on driving,”

Representatives from Oregon State Police, Portland Police Bureau and Multnomah County Sheriff talked about the effectiveness of Oregon’s new increased fines and consequences for driving while using a phone. In 2017, there were 8,748 convictions for using a mobile electronic device; since the new law went into effect (late 2017 and all of 2018), there were 13,086 convictions.

Safety advocates said they hope that drivers will realize using a phone while driving can be painful, in more ways than one. From 2013 – 2017, there were 1,089 fatal and injury crashes from drivers being distracted because they were using a cellphone; in those crashes, 20 people died and 1,557 people were injured.

OSP Sergeant Y.M. Shephard asked, “Is it really worth one text or call?”

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