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Oregon's new distracted driving law makes nearly any kind of phone use while driving illegal.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Oregon drivers will soon be barred from holding a cellphone or other electronic device while driving. The law is an updated version of Oregon's previous distracted driving law, which forbid drivers from talking on the phone without a hands-free service.Hillsboro Police and area motorists are getting ready for a new law to go into effect next month which makes it illegal to hold a cellphone while driving.

Starting Oct. 1, it will be against the law for drivers to use their phone in almost any capacity while driving, adding restrictions to a previous law which made it illegal to talk or text with a phone while behind the wheel .

The new law prohibits drivers from making calls, checking social media or using navigation apps while the car is moving. Holding an electronic device — including cellphones, tablet computers, GPs systems or laptops — will be illegal under the law.

Across Washington County, officers are getting ready to implement the new law. Hillsboro Police spokesman Henry Reimann said this department plans to focus on educating the public about the new law, rather than hard enforcement.

"People are pretty creative with hiding their phones," Reimann said. "Who knows what we'll be seeing."

The new law is aimed at cutting down the number of reckless driving crashes. Oregon has seen a sharp climb in traffic fatalities since 2013, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Last year, more than 500 people died in car crashes across the state.

"Hopefully for us, this will mean that people will comply with the law and we'll have fewer crashes and fewer people killed in Washington County, and in Oregon," said Lt. Timothy Tannenbaum with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

It has been illegal to talk on your phone while driving for years, but drivers were still able to do other things, including reading and checking social media.

"It's a much tighter law than it was," said Michael Hall, administrative sergeant with the Forest Grove Police Department. "It has definitely been on the minds of the public. We've seen more than enough complaints about people on their phones. This has some pretty stiff penalties for the third offense."

Fines range from $260 to $1,000 for a first-time offense, jumping to as much as $2,500 if drivers are caught a second time. A third offense in a 10-year period is considered a misdemeanor crime, with repeat offenders facing as much as $6,250 fine and up to one year in jail.

"The old law was a bit loosey-goosey," Hall said. "The message now is clear: Don't talk on your phone and don't surf the Internet while you're driving. This isn't a paradigm shift."

An incident in Washington County prompted lawmakers to enact the stricter law. Oregon State Police arrested Beaverton resident Esmirna Rabanales-Ramos on drunken driving charges after a trooper reportedly saw the glow of a cellphone illuminate her as she drove.

In 2015, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled the trooper had no probable cause to stop her, since using a cellphone wasn't against the law, only using it to talk or text.

"It makes the law compliant with the intent," Tannenbaum said. "The intent was to get phones out of people's hands. It's not hard to tell who is manipulating a phone. Surfing the Internet or checking Facebook while driving is just as dangerous as talking or texting."

If drivers must talk on the phone while driving, Tannenbaum said, the phone can be on speaker phone.

"If you have it mounted on your dashboard and it's not in your hand," he said. "I pull people over who had their phones on speaker, but they are still holding it in their hand. That's not hands-free. You can have a conversation while it's on your dashboard, or on the seat next to you, as long as you're not having to type in numbers or manipulate the phone."

Tannenbaum said that while it might be inconvenient to pull over to use your smartphone or tablet, it's important.

"As frustrated as some are with this bill, it's designed to save lives and get people to pay attention to the task of driving. There's enough happening on the roads that they need to be paying attention."

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