Police crack down on distracted drivers
The Newberg-Dundee Police Department recently participated in a nationwide effort to bring attention to and reduce distracted driving.
On April 11, the NDPD set aside a four-hour block for this purpose, which resulted in 26 traffic stops. Officers issued 24 citations for cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle. Six citations were issued at other times of the day for a total of 30 violations meted.
The effort was also in partnership with the Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Impact, a nonprofit organization that works to increase safe driving and reduce driving under the influence of intoxicants through intervention and prevention. These two groups helped provide funding for the effort.
"Use of cell phones and other mobile electronic devices has become a significant contributor to motor vehicle crashes," the NDPD stated in a release. "The Newberg-Dundee Police Department is committed to the ongoing education and enforcement of traffic issues that adversely affect our community."
NDPD Officer Brian Hagen said according to the traffic officers who participated in the event, the bulk of the violations came while motorists were temporarily stopped at intersections, although many violators were still openly talking on their cell phones while driving.
"There is a misconception that it is OK to use the phone while stopped, but if you are operating your vehicle on the roadway, even if temporarily stopped for a light or sign, you cannot have your cell phone in your hand," Hagen said.
He added there were no crashes reported on the day of the targeted enforcement. All 30 violators were cited; most first offenders can take a distracted driving course to avoid the fine.
However, Hagen acknowledged no police force can respond to every traffic violation, even if called in by bystanders or other drivers.
"If bystanders or other motorists are observing an emergency, or a traffic crime such as a hit and run or DUII, it is certainly appropriate to call police," Hagen said. "If it is simply a traffic violation, we would prefer to keep the phone lines open for higher priority calls. Every patrol shift, I observe at least one person driving with their phone or some similar offense, but I'm unable to make a stop because I'm already responding to a higher priority call for service. Even police officers have to let some things go for the greater good. However, it is my experience that all habitual traffic offenders do eventually get caught."
According to Oregon state law, it's illegal to drive while holding or using an electronic device, such as cell phones, tablets, laptops and GPS systems. Courts have the ability to waive the fine for a first-time offender who attends an approved distracted driving course within four months. Only the fine is suspended, however; the violation remains on the driver's record.
A first offense that doesn't contribute to a crash is listed as a Class B violation with a maximum fine of $1,000. A second offense, or a first offense that does contribute to a crash, is a Class A violation with a maximum fine of $2,000. A third offense in 10 years is a Class B misdemeanor and could lead to a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to six months in jail.
Distracted driving laws do not apply if you are using a hands free or built-in device and are 18 years or older; using a single touch or swipe to active or deactivate a device; when parked safely in a designated parking spot; when calling for medical help and no one else can make the call; tow truck and bus drivers following federal rules for commercial driver's license rules; and other radio uses in specific instances.
The NDPD has conducted more than 2,500 traffic stops since Jan. 1.