Several new laws going into effect Jan. 1 are aimed at increasing safety on Oregon roads, in various ways. One increases the fine for using a handheld mobile device while driving, while another makes it illegal to smoke in a vehicle where children are present.
Fine increases for mobile device usage
Senate Bill 9 changes Oregon's traffic offense of operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device from a Class D violation to a Class C. The minimum fine for a class C violation is $142, and the fine for this offense can be as high as $500.
The fine's increase is aimed at reducing the number of crashes that involve a driver talking on a handheld phone or texting. In Oregon from 2009 to 2011, nine people died in crashes involving a driver who was reportedly using a cell phone at the time of the crash, and 673 people have been injured.
Using a cell phone while driving falls under the category of "distracted driving," and this type of distraction is an increasingly dangerous behavior across the country. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the U.S. 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 3,267 in 2010.
The behavior is especially dangerous for younger drivers: 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.
Any activity that diverts a person's attention away from the primary task of driving is dangerous. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study revealed that physically dialing a phone while driving increases the risk of a crash as much as six times. Texting is riskier still, increasing the collision risk by 23 times.
Even though a majority of Oregonians believe texting and hand-held cell phone use while driving is unsafe, some still choose to do so.
According to a 2012 phone survey of Oregon drivers, more than 70 percent said they know cell phones are a safety problem and that phoning and texting while driving are illegal. In spite of this, cell phone convictions in Oregon have steadily risen from an initial 40 in 2008 to 22,892 in 2012.
New smoking offense created
Senate Bill 444 created the new offense of smoking in a vehicle while a person younger than 18 years old is in the vehicle. The maximum fine for the first offense is $250, and the maximum fine for repeat offenses is $500.
This new law is considered a "secondary" law: a police officer may cite for this offense only if the officer has already stopped a vehicle for another violation or offense.
Drive tests waived for drivers-ed graduates
Beginning in January, Oregon DMV will waive the drive test for provisional driver licenses if the applicant completes a state-approved driver education program.
Students who pass the rigorous driving test in the driver education program will receive a plastic card certifying their successful completion, and when they bring that card to DMV and meet all the other requirements for driving privileges, they won't be required to take the DMV drive test.
(Note: there may be a period of transition where some approved providers haven't brought their driver tests into compliance with the DMV requirements that authorize the drive test waiver – check with your approved driver education provider to see if it can provide the card.)
"It's important to understand that the driving test our young drivers take through our approved driver education courses meets or exceeds the DMV test content," said Troy E. Costales, Safety Division administrator for the Oregon Department of Transportation. "We want to reward those who take approved driver education programs, because studies consistently show those drivers are safer, receive fewer tickets and experience fewer suspensions."
Oregon's driver education program and graduated license program have combined to significantly reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries involving young drivers. Over the past decade in the state, the number of 16-year-old drivers involved in fatal and injury crashes has been reduced by almost 57 percent. 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal and injury crashes are down 46 percent.
"If we can get more teens and parents to understand the value of formal driver education, and get the young drivers into these classes, we will continue to save lives and reduce crashes and injuries involving young drivers," Costales said.
A 2005 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the crash rate for teens taking formal driver education was 11 percent to 21 percent lower than for those getting 100 hours of practice driving with a parent. A 2007 study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that teens taught to drive by their parents were nearly three times more likely to be involved in serious crashes than young drivers taught by professionals.
A Provisional Driver License is Oregon's standard passenger car driving privilege for drivers younger than 18 years. Provisional drivers have additional restrictions on their driving that phase out completely when the driver turns 18.
Applicants for provisional driving privileges who qualify for the drive-test waiver still must meet all other requirements. They must:
· Have had an instruction permit for at least six months· Certify that they have at least 50 hours of driving experience with a driver who is older than 21 and has had driving privileges for at least three years· Pass the safe driving practices test at DMV· Pay the application fee
Oregon does not require a driver education course in order to obtain a driver license. Young drivers may obtain 100 hours of supervised driving experience instead of completing a driver education course. In the best scenario, young drivers successfully complete a driver education program, gain at least 100 hours of supervised driving experience with parents, and move smoothly through the graduated license program. This path will build critical foundational skills and develop good driving behavior – and make Oregon's roads safer for everyone.
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