July 30th, 2009

little blue dog

90 bucks, or ride your bike, or get lost

A couple days ago, Oregon's governor signed House Bill 2377, which prohibits the driver of a vehicle from using a cell phone unless a hands-free accessory, which permits both of the driver's hands to remain on the steering wheel, is also being used.

This is an upgrade of the current law, which applies to drivers 18 and younger, and doesn't include an exception for a hands-free accessory. Also, the violation under the current law is a secondary offense, meaning an officer can only issue a citation if the driver is pulled over for a separate suspected offense. Under the new law, it'll be a primary offense. The maximum fine under the current and new versions is the same: $90.

I'm all for this type of law, but this one has problems:
  1. It doesn't apply to bicyclists, whose personal safety depends more on their manual dexterity and reaction time (both of which, at least in the legislature's thinking, are compromised through use of a cell phone) than a driver's does.

  2. It's overinclusive. My phone has a couple dozen functions other than transmitting voice calls or texts. I use a map application for directions all the time. However, since I'm operating my phone in order to do it, I can get fined under this law, even though use of a similar device to do the same thing (like an in-dash GPS computer, a handheld GPS device, or, for that matter, the same app on an iPod Touch) is perfectly legal. Same with using a music app for some tunes while driving.
The second case is likely inadvertent, but in practice it's going to be a hassle. Cops seeing drivers looking at their phones will ticket them, regardless whether they're texting or talking or not, because the new law says so.