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Lake Oswego Police Department says number of cellphone violations increased since new legislation

PMG PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL - In 2019, Lake Oswego police issued 1,031 cellphone citations.
Three distracted driving violations in 10 years — that's all it takes to turn what might seem like a minimal infraction into potential jail time.

That's why the Lake Oswego Police Department encourages the public to fully understand the distracted driving law and to take it seriously.

Oregon's law that came into effect in 2017 states that people operating a vehicle cannot use any mobile electronic devices while driving. That means no GPS, iPod, iPad or phone — to name a few.

In 2019, Lake Oswego police issued 1,031 cellphone citations — or about three violations per day.

"If it's not permanently affixed to the car, you can't hold it in your hand, even if it's turned off," said traffic officer Jeff Oliver, adding that it's legal to use a hands-free device if a person is over 18 and only does one swipe or touch to activate or deactivate a function. "If I have it in my lap and I have my address already plugged into my GPS and I just (press) go then that's fine. If I'm sitting there typing a text because it's in my lap, I'm not holding it, but (I'm) still using it because (I'm) doing more than one touch or swipe."

Prior to the 2017 update, there was a loophole in the law that allowed a person to use a mobile electronic device for any other reason than communication. So it was technically legal to watch a movie or browse social media while driving — though Oliver said people could still get pulled over for careless driving if they were unable to maintain driving safely.

That's why Oliver said he thinks the amount of violations were lower prior to the updated cellphone law. He said police are still seeing many violations and he's seen more people leaving the phone in their laps or holding it under their laps so they don't get caught.

"So that makes it even worse," Oliver said. "It's more of a distraction by doing that."

According to statistics from the Oregon Department of Transportation, there were 8,748 convictions for using a mobile electronic device in 2017 across Oregon and after new legislation and enforcement in 2017 and 2018, there were 13,086 mobile electronic convictions in 2018.

And Oliver said the citations are a mixed bag.

"It's using it for GPS, I'm changing my music, I'm texting, I'm calling somebody — just about anything a phone can be used for, people are doing that," he said.

The only time it is legal to use a mobile electronic device in the car is when a person is parked legally on the side of a road or in a parking space in a parking lot.

"You can't use it while you're stopped at stop lights, you can't use it when you're stopped at a stop sign, you can't even use it if you're driving through a public parking lot like Safeway," Oliver said. "Just don't use it when you're driving. You're four times more likely to get into a crash if you're using it when you're driving. It's just as distracting using a hands-free device because you're thinking about your conversation."

The first offense that doesn't contribute to a crash is a fine of up to $1,000; the second offense — or first offense if it contributed to a crash — is a fine of up to $2,000; and the third offense in 10 years is a Class B misdemeanor with a fine of up to $2,500 and potentially six months in jail.

For first time offenders that don't get into a crash, the court may suspend the fine if the driver completes and pays for a Distracted Driving Avoidance course — though the Lake Oswego Municipal Court does not offer this option.

"If you have to use the phone, get a device and use your bluetooth and use it legally," Oliver said. "The best thing to do is pull over to the side of the road, stop and use it that way or just put the phone away until you get where you're going."

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