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Keep your hands on the wheel, not the cell

The Curry Coastal Pilot

We've all seen the obvious problem: A driver gets so engrossed in the cell phone at their ear that they create a hazard for others around them andndash; ignoring traffic laws, swerving, slowing suddenly, or oblivious the other traffic or pedestrians they nearly clobbered.

Based on common sense alone, the Oregon Legislature is considering joining six other states andndash; including California andndash; in banning the use of hand-held devices while driving. The proposed bill would make hand-held cell-phone use a "primary" traffic violation, meaning that a police officer could pull over a driver based on that issue alone.

It was an idea that the Oregon Legislature considered and watered down two years ago. The compromise at that time was to make it a "secondary" offense for drivers younger than 18, meaning a police officer could only cite a teenager who was stopped for some other traffic infraction. It was a failed attempt to do "something" in the face of some public outcry.

Opponents make two arguments, both with their faults. First, studies of traffic accident reports don't yet show cell-phone use as a significant problem. However, those accident reports are usually based on drivers' statements: How many of us would admit that we were using a cell phone when we ran into trouble? Second, police have written very few citations to Oregon teens under the new law. In other words, once they could cite a teen for a "primary" traffic law, they don't add to the teen's trouble with a "secondary" citation.

Yes, lots drivers use their "free hand" for something else: attention to food or drinks to adjusting the heater vents. But very few of those things take up as much of a driver's attention as a cell-phone conversation.

Oregon's streets, roads and highways will be safer if we all keep our hands off the cell phones while we're driving. Most drivers understand that already; let's put it on the books.

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The Curry Coastal Pilot
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Wednesday September 28, 2016

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