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Understanding Oregon’s distracted driving laws and how they impact your case
Distracted driving is sometimes only thought of as a problem among teen drivers. While it’s true that teenagers are among the worst offenders, the evidence is clear that distracted driving is a problem among all age groups.
And tragically, the problem of distracted driving is only getting worse.
In this article, we’ll look at Oregon’s distracted driving laws and how distracted driving may impact your car accident lawsuit.
What is distracted driving?
The term “distracted driving” refers to ANY non-driving activity that diverts your attention from driving.
Common examples of distracted driving behaviors include:
- Talking on the telephone
- Talking to passengers
- Adjusting the radio
- Watching videos
- Eating or drinking
Distracting activities tend to fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Cognitive distractions take your mind off the road (such as talking on the phone or to a passenger)
- Visual distractions take your eyes off the road (like watching videos or adjusting the radio)
- Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel (like grooming or eating)
How does distracted driving compare to drunk driving?
Many people who would never drink and drive wouldn’t hesitate to text and drive. However, research consistently shows that motorists who talk on handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers.
A University of Utah study had participants drive a simulated vehicle while distracted and while intoxicated. The study found that the participants were as impaired when they talked on a cell phone as they were when they were intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08%.
Another study conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) found that texting while driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving.
According to the study, the reaction times of people texting as they drove fell by 35%, while those who had consumed the legal limit of alcohol, or taken cannabis, fell by 21% and 12% respectively.
Oregon’s distracted driving laws
Oregon’s distracted driving laws are strict compared to other states.
A person commits the offense of distracted driving in Oregon if they use a mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle.
The term “mobile electronic device” includes, but is not limited to, a device capable of text messaging, voice communication, entertainment, navigation, accessing the Internet, or producing electronic mail (e.g. cell phone, tablet, GPS, laptop).
Here are a few cases where the law does NOT apply:
✘ When using hands-free or built-in devices if you’re 18 years of age or older.
✘ When parked safely in a designated parking spot.
✘ While providing or summoning medical help.
✘ Tow truck or bus drivers following the federal rules for CDL holders.
|Oregon penalties for violating distracted driving law|
|1st offense that doesn’t contribute to a crash||Class B violation||Maximum fine of $1,000|
|2nd offense (or 1st offense that contributes to a crash)||Class A violation||Maximum fine of $2,000|
|3rd offense in 10 years||Class B misdemeanor||Maximum fine of $2,500 and maximum term of 6 months in jail|
|Source: ORS 811.507|
For a first offense that does NOT contribute to a crash, the court may suspend the fine if the driver completes an approved distracted driving avoidance class, and shows proof to the court, within 4 months.
Distracted driving statistics
Despite some of the strictest distracted driving laws in the nation, accidents caused by distracted driving occur at an alarming rate in the Beaver State.
Consider the following statistics:
- There were an estimated 23,783 crashes caused by distracted driving between 2015-2019 (about 4,756 per year) in Oregon.
- There were 158 fatalities and 23,403 injuries caused by distracted driving between 2015-2019 in Oregon.
How are there so many distracted-driving accidents when Oregon’s laws are so strict?
The answer is simple: Not all Oregonians follow the laws.
According to the AAA Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index, 43.2% of drivers report having driven while talking on a hand-held cell phone at least once in the past 30 days. What’s more, 38.6% report reading at least once and 29.3% report texting or composing an email on a hand-held cell phone while driving.
To make drivers aware of the consequences of distracted driving, Alexxyss’s mother gives frequent talks about the event. What’s more, Alexxyss’ crashed car was preserved in a trailer that travels around the country to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
10 tips to avoid distracted driving
The vast majority of drivers understand that using a mobile electronic device while operating a vehicle is dangerous.
According to a study, the majority of drivers view typing (96.2%), reading (94.3%), and talking (79.7%) on a hand-held cell phone while driving to be very or extremely dangerous.
Nevertheless, electronic devices are simply too irresistible for many drivers to pass up. With that in mind, here are 10 tips to avoid distracted driving:
- Silence or turn off your phone before you start driving.
- Let your employer know that you won’t be responding to texts or answering calls while you're driving.
- Make sure your kids and pets are safely secured in the vehicle so they can’t move around and cause distractions.
- Program your navigation system before you start moving.
- If you see someone texting or otherwise driving while distracted, let them know you’re not comfortable with their behavior.
- Resist the urge to reach for items while you’re driving. If you have to reach for something, pull over first.
- Keep your car clutter-free. Clutter can be distracting even if you’re not actively engaged with it.
- Limit the number of passengers in your car to minimize distractions.
- If you’re hungry, eat before you get into your car or pull into a parking lot to eat.
- Don’t use your phone to take videos while driving regardless of what’s happening outside your car. If you find yourself frequently recording traffic, purchase a dashcam that can record automatically.
How to recover damages after a distracted driving accident
Oregon is a fault-based insurance state, which means that the person who is at fault for the accident is responsible for any damages that result.
In most cases, “fault” is proved by establishing the 3 elements of negligence:
- Duty. You must prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care. All drivers owe a duty of care to exercise “reasonable care” to avoid harming others on the road, such as by not driving distracted.
- Breach. You must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care. A breach occurs when the defendant fails to meet the standard of care required by, for example, texting behind the wheel or looking down at the radio dial.
- Causation. You must prove that your injury was caused by the defendant’s breach of the standard of care.
Distracted driving behaviors are almost always a breach of a driver’s duty to exercise reasonable care. As a result, if you can prove that the other driver was distracted at the time of the crash, you can establish negligence and recover damages.
What’s more, if the defendant received a citation for violating Oregon’s distracted driving law, the defendant will be presumed negligent and will have the burden of proving that they didn’t cause the accident.
Oregon’s modified comparative fault rule
Comparative fault is a legal system in Oregon in which the plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault. On top of that, if the plaintiff’s assigned percentage of fault exceeds 51%, they’re barred from recovering ANY damages.
Consider the following example:
Dave is driving his car east on Fremont Street in Portland, Oregon at night when he drops his cigarette. Rather than pulling over, he comes to a complete stop in the middle of the road and begins searching for the cigarette.
At the same time, Nicole is driving east on Fremont Street. Because she’s scrolling through Instagram and driving, she doesn’t notice Jason’s stopped car and she crashes into it, resulting in catastrophic injury.
Nicole files a lawsuit against Dave for $100,000 worth of damages.
A jury finds Dave 55% at fault for the crash (for stopping in the middle of the road) and Nicole 45% at fault for the crash (for distracted driving).
Under Oregon’s modified comparative fault rules, Nicole can only recover a maximum of $55,000.
What to do after a distracted driving accident
Although the moments after a distracted driving accident are understandably chaotic, there are some simple steps you can take to increase your chances of recovering damages down the road.
- Step 1. Get medical attention for yourself and anyone else who needs it. Oregon requires drivers to stop at the scene of a crash and render reasonable aid to anyone injured.
- Step 2. Call the police so they can conduct an investigation and draft a report. If you think the other driver involved in the crash was distracted, be sure to tell the officer so they can be on the lookout for evidence of distraction.
- Step 3. Gather any evidence you can find at the scene. Distracted driving is difficult to prove, so it helps if you can come up with some evidence. One of the best ways to do this is to take photographs of everything and collect witness contact information.
- Step 4. Locate an experienced personal injury attorney in your area. Your lawyer will be able to conduct their own investigation into the accident. This may include requesting the other driver’s phone records to prove they were using their phone at the time of the accident, or deposing the passengers to find out what they observed the driver doing in the moments before the crash.
- Step 5. Avoid talking about the accident on social media. One of the first things a defense attorney will do is review all of your social media accounts for information that may hurt your case. The wisest course of action is to avoid posting about the accident altogether.
If you want to discuss your distracted driving crash with an experienced Oregon car accident attorney, consider using our free online legal directory. Most initial consultations are free.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.