Editorial: Increased fine could help deter driver cell phone use


Published Feb 17, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

It’s common knowledge that it’s dangerous to use a cellphone while driving, but plenty of people still do it. Would a bigger fine help?

The Oregon Legislature is studying that question, considering Senate Bill 9, which would increase the maximum penalty from $250 to $1,000. House Bill 2790 would go even further, taking the maximum to $2,000.

Research is definitive on the risk of driving while using a phone, even comparing it to driving while intoxicated. Studies show drivers using cellphones are four times more likely to crash than other drivers, a likelihood equal to that of a drunk driver, according to The New York Times.

Yet many drivers are undeterred. A history of such use before it became illegal may have given them a mistaken notion of their capacity. Indeed, reports indicate that drivers overestimate their ability to multitask.

Central Oregon has its own horrific example in which 16-year-old Forrest Cepeda died in July 2011 when Erik Conn, distracted by texting, slammed into him while he was riding his bike on Reed Market Road.

Bend Police Lt. Chris Carney said his department doesn’t track cellphone cases separately, but they see far more violations when they go out in unmarked cars than patrol cars. Speed is still the biggest factor causing accidents, he said, with fines much lower than those proposed in these bills for cellphone use.

The bills would increase the fine but leave other provisions of the law unchanged. Those provisions establish a variety of exceptions, including use of a hands-free device, emergency uses and some work-related circumstances.

We support increasing the fine to get drivers’ attention, although we think $1,000 is a sufficient level.