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For the rest of this month, local law enforcement will be on the lookout for people texting while driving as well as other distracted forms of driving in an effort to improve motorist safety

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Distracted driving has been the cause of many traffic accidents and fatalities, prompting law enforcement to step up enforcement efforts and keep roads safer.

Each year, Oregon highways claim precious lives as a result of distracted driving.

The statistics represent families who needlessly lost a loved one, and injuries that adversely changed lives forever. Between 2013 and 2017, there were 12,006 fatal and injury crashes on Oregon highways involving a distracted driver.

The Prineville Police Department received overtime funding from the Oregon Department of Transportation, the United States Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to focus on Distracted Driving. This added enforcement will be conducted from January through December.

Distracted driving is dangerous for drivers, passengers and others. It occurs when a driver's attention is diverted by a number of things, such as an electronic device.

According to Distracted Driving Program Manager for the Oregon Transportation Safety Division Kelly Kapri, distracted driving is a huge problem, not only in Oregon, but nationally as well.

"As a nation, we are all trying to do what we can to make a difference, and we find that high-visibility enforcement really makes a difference," said Kapri. "That is why Prineville is taking action."

In 2016, a Distracted Driving Task Force for Oregon was organized to look at root causes of distracted driving and at current legislation. Kapri said the task force was successful in making some changes in 2017-2018 legislative sessions.

"The cell phone law was changed for both sessions," she said." Now we have a law that law enforcement can actually enforce, and courts can actually convict."

She said that the law is clearer and tougher.

"That was not available before 2018, and now it is," she added. "The fines are steeper, and they have the ability to be enhanced."

She said it is too soon for the data, but the number of citations being written has increased. The Oregon Transportation Safety Division has provided training to law enforcement on distracted driving and enforcement prosecution. Kapri emphasized that while people have stereotypes that teenagers are the ones who most often drive while using electronic devices, major offenders are 25 to 45 years old. Teen offender numbers have actually decreased.

Prineville Police Officer Kathryn Bottoms helps to orchestrate the local distracted driving grant, and she said that local law enforcement sees distracted driving as a problem for all driving ages. She added that the new laws have enabled police to better enforce the distracted driving laws.

"If you need to make a call or send a message, use a hands-free device or safely pull over to the shoulder before making the call," Bottoms said. "With the exception of a 911 emergency call, no call or text is worth the serious results."

The enforcement effort focuses on texting or talking on the phone while driving. Distracted driving claims 3,450 lives nationally. A person commits the offense of driving a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device if the person, while driving a motor vehicle on a highway or premises open to the public, holds a mobile device in their hands or is using one for any purpose.

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The pentalties for driving a motor vehicle while using mobile electronic device include:

A first conviction is a Class B traffic violation ($265), unless the offence contributes to an accident. Then it is a Class A traffic violation ($440). A second conviction within a 10-year period is a Class A traffic violation ($440). A third or subsequent conviction within a 10-year period current conviction is a Class B misdemeanor, an arrestable offense.


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