Oregon: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: December 18, 2017
Cell phone, texting news: A rewrite of Oregon’s distracted driving law took effect Oct. 1. The new law ushered in by House Bill 2597 updates the law’s wording to include any use of “mobile electronic devices” such as smartphones. The law outlaws holding these devices while driving. The plan also upgrades first-time infractions from Class C to Class B ($260 first offense). The final House vote came June 30 and the governor signed the act into law in early August.

oregon state flag House Bill 2597 author Rep. Andy Olson says the new law is all about “holding the (mobile electronic) device.” “The law doesn’t say you can’t use (cell phones and smartphones), you just can’t have them in your hand. You can still swipe something on or off.”

Oregon distracted driving laws:

  • Oregon prohibits holding of mobile communications devices by all drivers. Single swipe to activate device OK. Cell phones with hands-free attachments are allowable only for those over 18 years of age.
  • Drivers under the age of 18 with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses are prohibited from using cell phones or text messaging while driving. The ban applies to all cell phone use, regardless of whether a hands-free device is employed.

Read the Oregon cell phone & texting law

Fines: First offense, $260. Second offense, $435. Third or subsequent conviction, $2,000 plus possible jail time.

2017 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 2597: Updates distracted driving law to include any use of “mobile electronic devices” such as smartphones. Outlaws holding these devices while driving. Establishes “distracted driving avoidance courses” for first offenders. Upgrades infractions from Class C to Class B (first offense). Increases penalty to a Class A infraction if accident results or subsequent offense occurs within 10 years. Approved by Judiciary on April 21. Approved by House in a 46-13 vote of May 1. Approved by Senate Rules Committee on June 26. Amended and approved by the full Senate in a 21-8 vote of June 29. Approved by the House in a 47-6 vote of June 30. Signed into law by the governor Aug. 2. Took effect Oct. 1, 2017. (Olson)

Senate Bill 2: Would set minimum $1,000 fine for a first distracted driving offense and a $1,500 fine for a second offense. For third offense, minimum $2,000 fine. Maximum fine for first offense, $6,250 and a year in prison. Maximum fine for serial offenses, $10,000 and five-year imprisonment. Establishes felony prosecutions for serial offenders. Additional 48 hours in jail or community service for distracted driving convictions. Also renames offense to use of “using mobile electronic device.” Approved by Judiciary on April 19. Died in committee. (Courtney)

SB 556: Would create offense of driving with a dog in vehicle operator’s lap. Died in committee. (Hansell)

Distracted driving notes (2017):
State Rep. Julie Parrish was busted for handheld cell phone use in October, the same month that tougher distracted driving legislation that she supported went into effect. Parrish, who said she was using a map to look for directions, said her $265 ticket should bear witness that police are enforcing the new law.

State Senate president Peter Courtney was spearheading distracted driving legislation for 2017 that could bring first-time offenders a year in jail, as well as fines as high as $6,250. The minimum fine would be $1,000. Courtney’s bill also envisioned punishments for repeat offenders of five years in prison and/or a $125,000 fine. Courtney told the Joint Senate and House Judiciary committees that distracted driving had become “an epidemic” in Oregon: “Until we, as a state, take distracted driving as seriously as drunk driving, we aren’t going to be able to change behavior.”

Courtney is modeling his SB 2 after drunken-driving laws. He told a legislative gathering in mid-December: “Between 2005 and 2012, the number of drunk driving fatalities per person decreased by 28 percent. Yet, even as the drunk driving fatality rate continues its decades-long decline, the danger of distracted driving is worsening as smartphone usage increases.”

2016 distracted driving notes:
Oregon State Police say they saw distracted driving ticketing increase by almost a third after adding 40 unmarked patrol cars this year.

Three-quarters of Oregon motorists drive distracted at some point, a study suggests. 75 percent of drivers surveyed in early 2016 said that they engaged in distracted driving behaviors while alone. The percentage dropped to 57 percent when passengers were present, according to the respondents. 83 percent said the distracted driving problem was getting worse in the state, mostly due to cell phone use, according to the Southern Oregon University study.

67 percent of state drivers surveyed support an increase in electronic distracted driving fines, a 2016 survey suggests. Researchers at Southern Oregon University found “an overall consensus that more and more people are driving distracted using cell phones and that this behavior is likely to continue.”

2015 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 167: Would allow taxi drivers to use mobile communications devices while on the job. (Boquist)

2013 distracted driving notes:
Portland is equipping some of its buses with equipment designed to grab the attention of pedestrians, who are often using cell phones when stepping in front of vehicles. The alerts being tested include flashing headlights, verbal warnings and strobe lights. The “distracted walking” test is funded by a $400,000 Federal Transit Administration grant. In 2010, a turning TriMet bus hit five pedestrians, killing two.

Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, was the sponsor of the distracted driving measure that increases fines as of Jan. 1, 2014. Senate Bill 9 (below) cleared the Senate and House on July 7, in the final hours of the 2013 session. It originally called for maximum fines of $1,000 but that amount was halved via amendment.

“If it was my way, we would treat distracted driving the same way we treat drinking and driving in this state,” Senate president Courtney said. “And I think one day we will,” he told the AP.

Courtney, D-Salem, said as SB 9 advanced in early July: “Texting is a way of life. They really believe they can drive a car and text.”

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, defended his committee’s vote in favor of SB 9 and its maximum fine of $1,000. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee said the $1,000 fine would be used on the worst cases of distracted driving. Most first-time distracted driving violators would pay $260, up from the current $110.

Under House Bill 2790, the electronic distracted driving offenses would have been upgraded to class A status, with $2,000 maximum fines. The bill did not advance in 2013. The sponsor was Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie.

Forget that big loophole in Oregon’s law prohibiting handheld cell phone use by drivers. As of Jan. 1, 2012, Oregon no longer allows drivers to use handheld cell phones if the call is related to their jobs.

Police complained that judges were throwing out distracted driving tickets when drivers testified they were making work calls. The Register-Guard called this exemption “a driver’s version of Monopoly’s get-out-jail-free card.”

State police issued 2,151 citations for texting and/or using handheld cell phones in 2012. For that year’s first six months, the Oregon Department of Transportation reports 155 traffic crashes linked to distracted driving, including a fatality. In 2011, there were four fatalities.

2013 Distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 9: Seeks to increase fines to as much as $1,000 for drivers’ violations of state’s wireless communications device laws. Would change offense of texting from current class D violation to class B traffic violations. State DOT directed to place signs warning of signs on highways. Approved by the Judiciary Committee on March 6. Approved by the Joint Committee On Ways and Means in a 23-2 vote of July 6. Amended from $1,000 maximum/class B with sponsor’s backing. Approved by the full Senate in a 22-7 vote of July 7. Approved by the House in a 33-26 vote of July 7. Signed into law by the governor Aug. 14. Took effect Jan. 1, 2014. (Courtney)

House Bill 2790: Would increase maximum fine for distracted driving violations to $2,000, from the current $250. Offenses would be class A traffic violations. Died in committee. (Tomei)

2012 distracted driving notes:
State Rep. Andy Olsen, R-Albany, reportedly is working on a plan to reward Oregon drivers who don’t get cell phone citations. For each year without a distracted driving ticket, motorists would be able to remove an existing moving violation from their records. Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton is helping Olsen craft the legislation, KBND Radio reported.

2011 legislation:
House Bill 3186: Removes a series of exceptions to the state’s current cell phone and texting law. Removes language that allowed drivers conducting business to use a cell phone. Clarifies that all text messaging while driving is prohibited. Amended and then approved by the Judiciary Committee on April 28. Approved by the full House in a 39-17 vote on May 4. Approved by the Senate in a 17-12 vote June 13 and returned to the House for approval of an amendment that specifies remaining exemptions for essential public works providers. Approved by the House in a 39-20 vote on June 16. Latest action: Signed by the governor on June 28. Takes effect Jan. 1, 2012. (Berger)

HB 2602: Would prohibit bicycle riders from using “listening devices” such as cell phones and MP3 players. Unsafe operation of a bicycle would be a class D violation. Fine up to $90. In the Judiciary Committee with no activity since January. (Schaufler)

2011 distracted driving notes:
Portland plans rolling crackdowns for vehicle safety violations this summer, with cell phone and text messaging violations a priority. “It’s not about catching people by surprise,” a spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation said of the summer sweep. “It’s not about writing tickets. This is about educating the public that driving distracted is unsafe and against the law.” Mayor Sam Adams announced the crackdown, saying, “Using a cell phone behind the wheel turns your car into a loaded weapon.”

Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, succeeded in plugging some of the loopholes in Oregon’s 2009 law prohibiting drivers from texting and talking on handheld cell phones. Both the House and Senate signed off on the plan (HB 3186) to clamp down on people who dodged fines by saying they were making important business calls. The governor signed the measure in late June. “This is going to clarify what we all intended, which is not to have individuals saying they’re doing this for their business,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the Senate sponsor.

Berger was moved to action by a Feb. 2 accident in Salem in which a texting driver killed a pedestrian.

Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, opposed Berger’s HB 3186. “I think we’d be chasing our tails to oblivion trying to outlaw stupid,” she said.

Rep. Michael Schaufler says he’s already tired of reading the bicycling community’s complaints about his House Bill 2602, which seeks to prohibit riders’ use of “listening devices”: “People on bicycles ask for a whole lot and then they say, ‘don’t regulate us!’ ”

2009 legislation:
HB 2377: Would ban use of handheld cell phones in Oregon for all drivers. Hands-free devices OK only for those over 18 years of age. Text messaging banned for all drivers. Approved by the House on April 28, 2009, and by the Senate on June 23. Final came approval July 7-8. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed the legislation in law on July 28. The restrictions took effect Jan. 1, 2010. The law calls for primary enforcement, meaning law officers may pull over motorists solely for texting and cell phone violations. Tickets will be $142.

HB 2038: Would prohibit use of cell phones unless a hands-free accessory is utilized. Violations could lead to suspension of driver’s license. (Same as HB 2377, but with a driver’s license suspension provision.) The House advanced HB 3037 instead.

Legislation notes (2009):
Oregon state police are concerned that the new cell phone/texting law contains a loophole. Language inserted in the original bill allows for drivers’ cell phone use “in the scope of the person’s employment if operation of the motor vehicle is necessary for the person’s job.” The intent was to allow for business use by taxi, bus and delivery drivers.

Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, is the sponsor of the successful cell phone/texting measure HB 2377 (and 2038). The new cell phone and texting law calls for primary enforcement and fines of $90. CB radios are exempted, pleasing truckers.

Just before the 2009 session began, Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, told a town hall meeting that he’s not going to “cram (a ban on cell phone use while driving) down people’s throats.” Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said that driving while using a cell phone or text messaging “is the equivalent of drunk driving.”

Oregon has a “vague” law against careless driving.

Oregon State Police report that no tickets have been written for violations of the teen cell phone law that went into effect in January 2008. The Associated Press reported: “The chances that a teenager will be cited for talking on a cell phone while driving are pretty much zero in Oregon.” Police in Portland say they’ve issued two tickets.

The law concerning cell-phone and text-messaging limits on young drivers was approved during the 2007 session. The Associated Press reported in early 2009 that “the chances that a teenager will be cited … are pretty much zero in Oregon.” In Portland, apparently no citations had been written at all. The cell phone law lists violations as “secondary,” meaning police have to pull over young drivers for another offense before citing them.


  1. Steven league says:

    This is so stupid, if I have my unit mounted on my dash and take one hand off the wheel to push the answer button. I just broke the law? Well I take one hand off the wheel to turn my heater on and off, to adjust my radio, to adjust my vents and my rear view mirror when jerks tailgate with their brights. This is a stupid law. … Proposed by stupid Liberal leaders. Ever wonder why when someone commits suicide by shooting themselves they always blame the gun, but never even mention the rope.

  2. Is it against the low to hold a MP3 player or iPod touch? What if you are using your phone as just a MP3 player. Mine is also my clock since I don’t wear a watch. I was pulled over for having my phone in my hand. I was not talking or texting. It was just in my hand. I was singing along with recorded music in it (not with earbuds which I heard was against the law). I was told it was against the law to hold your phone. I have researched online and can’t find this law anywhere. The law says you can’t be using a wireless two-way communication device designed to receive and transmit voice or text communication. Yes, my phone CAN do this, but it can also play music. Could someone please tell me where it states in the law you can’t be holding a phone if you’re not using it. This isn’t a normal activity for me but I want to know the true law.

    • TP, the law is clear. You can’t use a mobile communications device while driving. If you are using one, for whatever purpose, you are in violation unless you are an adult employing a hands-free accessory. Playing MP3s on a mobile communications device = using a mobile communications device = ticket.

  3. I’m all for the strict texting ban, it takes the eyes off the road!! But unless the phone is given back to the ear, I’m not so sure any law will be able to stop it, they can only try to deter the use. Texting can be hidden from view too easily … and think about it … the reason the texting is happening is because the laws took it away from the ear. But think of this …. If the phone to the ear is not a big deal for drivers (eyes would then be back on the road) the text use would be MUCH LESS. Using a cell to the ear is like having a passenger in the car and holding a conversation with them. Cell phones are here, let’s be realistic about the modern people using them. These current laws actually encourage texting. People are going to use the phones, some will chance a ticket to do so. And because the laws can’t stop it, we are all in a lot more danger on the roads because eyes are on texting now in order to hide their usage.

  4. angela johnson says:

    i would like to know when did it become against the law in Oregon to walk and talk. on your cell phone i know that you are not allowed to drive and talk unless you have a hands free and can not text and drive but WTF did it become against the law to walk and talk.

  5. Wah! Wah! They’re going to take away my right to talk on my cell phone while I’m drving!! Wah! Don’t they know I have some very important things to say that won’t wait until I am parked. Wah! The next thing you know, they will be taking away my teddy bear and my blanky. Wah!!! MORONS.

  6. J. Kevin Hunt says:

    Kathy Simms:

    The federal government is not involved.

  7. I just got a ticket for this a few days ago.. $110.

  8. Kathy Simms says:

    When did we give the US Government the right to take away OUR RIGHTS? Did it start with the helmet law? No smoking ANYWHERE? (I don’t smoke, but did we vote one this??)

    How long and how far we will let them pick away our rights one at a time to keep us in their little box? I have a right to vote on such BIG issues that impact my business which has been a mobile business for 23 years in which I have used mobile phone entire time. No tickets, no wrecks.

    I pay $1,600.00 per month for phone book ad’s. Each call I miss could be vital to my survivial. Pull over and take the call? I do this when a safe place is available, if not I inform them I am driving, to please call back and leave a message. I have seen many a cars pulled over to take that call and they are in more danger of causing a car wreck then if they drive with their eyes straight ahead while talking on their phone. But for the “few” irresponsible drivers, take away the rights of thousands of people that are responsible? NO….

    What about the phone call “get to the hospital your father just had a stroke”? NO-I refuse to accept this law. I will fill my glove box with the tickets as I continue to practice safe driving and my rights.

  9. james bond says:

    a conversation is a conversation no matter were it occurs, next it will be no talking allowed during driving between passengers and the driver, the liberals constantly need new ways to get our money and control what we do. this is what you get on the way to a socialist marxist state, welcome to america the next soviet union, join the soon to be new slave class, anyone who actually works for a living! every vehicle on the road is a revenue stream that these people need to tap to pay for there ever idiotic ideas .

  10. Mahlon M Hunt says:

    The $142 fine is stupid. Not enough to stop it. Should be at least ten times the amount. Most people will pay the $142 and continue to use the phone while driving. The larger fine might give many people to give it a second thought. Or if caught, let them spend a couple days in jail.

  11. M'Leesa Quimby says:

    A week ago, Friday, December 2nd, 2011, at 3:10pm, I witnessed a driver using his cell phone, while driving. I commented “Isn’t that against the Law?” His response was “No, it is the Law” and pointed downward, on his driver side door. The van that he was driving was a city van, with the logo “City of Portland / the City that Works / with the contact number”. Below that, the words “Police Bureau”. Also, I noticed he wasn’t wearing a Policeman uniform and did NOT present me with an “OFFICIAL” badge.

    For all I know, it could have been a delivery man, returning the vehicle, to the East Precinct. I live in the city of Portland {Oregon} and I am a “part time” city employee. Is there ANYone that could tell me, if a Portland Police is allowed to use a cell phone driving and NOBODY else can? I’ve asked A LOT and yet, … “No RESONSE”!!!

    • Response! Public safety officers are exempt from the law. Oregon legislators put quite a few loopholes in the law, some of which are being eliminated Jan. 1 (House Bill 3186, above). But public safety workers on the job are free to use cell phones.

  12. It is unconstitutional to , in any way, abridge the right of Freedom of Speech. Let me remind yall of the Oregon Constitution:

    Section 8. Freedom of speech and
    press. No law shall be passed restraining the
    free expression of opinion, or restricting the
    right to speak, write, or print freely on any
    subject whatever; but every person shall be
    responsible for the abuse of this right.

    By telling me I can’t talk, relay information, or communicate while driving is against the constitution. But since the ticket you would get from breaking this law is under 300$ you will not get a trial by jury. So you must OCCUPY THE COURTS with their own stupidity. Make it known that YOU have constitutional rights.

  13. Police Watching says:

    I have seen several police officers talking on their phones while driving, are they exempt?

  14. I was pulled over on the highway today while in the middle lane using my cruise control and going the precise speed limit. A business call came in (I use my car as my office) so I pushed the botton on my Jabra visor handless device. It did not work, I opened my phone for a second so the Jabra would recognize my connection. Apparently the connection shuts off when the phone leaves the car.

    Well, a state trooper saw my cell phone opened (not to my head) I also was not pushing any buttons, and next thing I knew, I was being pulled over. He was going to give me a warning. I thought for what? I had my headset on and the Jabra was not working. I offered to let him check my phone activity to prove that I did not make or recieve a call. Fortunately he did not write me up a warning, but it shook me up. I am a taxpaying law abiding 43 year old business woman and I have never had a ticket, and never broke the law. The stress from being pulled over made it hard for me to focus for the remaining duration of my commute. Where is the line to be drawn? I have two devices, which are more of a distraction.

    How about pulling over people drinking coffee, eating, sleepy drivers, agressive drivers, or people with children. I have driven under the effect of those listed above which are way more distracting. The lesson I learned here is never handle a phone period while you are driving.

  15. Joanne Wilgus says:

    Is it legal to text or use your phone while stopped for a red light?

  16. I’m the business owner of an IT company, and my vehicle is an integral part of my job – since I work 24/7, often using the phone for directions, hauling equipment, and visiting customer sites, this legislation will seemingly never apply to me.

    In-fact, this “law” is a complete joke, a waste of our tax dollars, and a total waste of everyone’s time;
    (a) Exceptions for anyone with a legitimate employment-related use of their vehicle enables a very broad audience to claim exception (how about daycare workers hauling children around, pizza delivery folks, etc).

    (b) Comments from the original authors such as “…we had it in our mind to only include…”. So what, that’s not what the final wording says, and that’s all that matters. Wow, talk about a total failure to communicate.

    (c) The author’s utter failure to do even a basic level of research, and actualize that DISTRACTED driving is the primary safety issue, not a one-handed driver (ie: how about all those people operating vehicles with manual transmissions). DISTRACTED driving includes toying with GPSes, raidos, DVD/video devices, dialing phones, or simply talking on a phone (handsfree or not). Studies have solidly established that DISTRACTED driving is the primary safety issue.

    Hell, some of the handfree stuff on the market is more distracting to operate than simply picking up a phone; god help us… Next time, how about stronger distracted, careless and reckless driving laws, with stiffer penalties, driver re-education requirements, and a vulnerable road user’s law that reflects the real victims with penalties promising real teeth (such as a Vehicular Homicide law). Then, how about we give our public service professions the resources to enforce these strengthened EXISTING LAWS, instead of this useless theater that will more-than-likely only benefit cell phone and handsfree device manufacturer’s, as the public clamors for a plethora of confusing and poorly-designed bluetooth-enabled gadgets.

    As for “saving a life”; give me a break. I can point out dozens of places around many Oregon cities, where a better-lit or better-placed crosswalk would easily save more lives than this silly legislation. I bet it would have cost less to update those areas, than has been (and will be) expended.

  17. This is law is an example of how ill informed Salem is. Studies do show that talking on a phone while driving is dangerous, but it makes no difference if you are using a hands free device or not. It is the conversation that is distracting, not the holding of the phone in your hand.

  18. Just another scam from big government and business; there are just looking for the money from tickets and sales of handsfree devices. Are we going to be any safer – I doubt it!

  19. Bill Babcock says:

    The law is not a bad idea especially for the drivers who don’t know how to drive anyway. The last time I was involved in any type of vehicle accident , two of the three people involved were talking on a cell phone; You do the Math!

  20. I think this law is dumb I have hade a cell phone from 1991 and it was mutch mutch biger then the one i have now and I have never had a problem in trafic with it at all. what about cb’s, drinks, food, oxygen — this bill is agansed are freedoms are rights the gov. need to … back off.

  21. I’m glad that a law of this sort has finally rolled around.
    Personally, it really doesn’t make sense to talk to someone while driving-
    no ‘latest 411’ is more important than the safety of other drivers.
    Yes, phones are used for emergencies and important notices,
    but if the phone call really is that important, I think that all of one’s attention should be put on that phone call by pulling off of the road.
    There are been too many careless drivers out there whipping out their cells and chatting while they should be looking where they are going.
    Especially when it comes to texting.

    I don’t think that this law takes away the privilages of ‘free speech’ as some come to argue,
    because if you really do want to talk to someone while driving,
    all you have to do is spend a little more on a handheld device,
    which comes with almost every phone these days.
    There should be nothing said about “the price being too high and not nessary for another device” but, truly, the safety of one’s self, and other drivers, really has no price.

  22. Who’s going to enforce this? How much is the fine? And, how long will it be enforced, before everyone just pretends that they don’t see the law breakers? I can’t begin to tell you all the near-accidents that I have had, that are because of cell phones. Will the police be exempt from this law? I’ve seen several police with cell phones to their ear driving around. Cell phones are great for emergencies, but does that cell phone have to be glued to your ear/hand 24/7? I think that this new law (which several other states already have) will be beneficial to all drivers.

  23. @mshelby


    CB radios as well as other business communication will be exempted. How ’bout you do a google search before writing irrelevant long-winded comments.

  24. mshelby@softgoals says:

    Would like to point out that the comments in response to this article are not entirely accurate. The wording by Rep. Tomei in this proposed law defines a “Mobile Communication Device” as a wireless two-way communication device designed to receive and transmit voice or text communication. This means the ban will affect all cell phone users, Ham Radio, CB, GMRS, FMRS, and commercial communication services. So who uses all these services? Truck drivers use CB radio to navigate around bad weather, icy roads, and traffic congestion. Utility trucks (electric, gas, and phone) use commercial mobile radio for normal maintenance of our state utility infrastructure. There mobile radios can not be used while the truck(s) are in motion. Tow trucks dispatched to help a stranded driver will not be able to use any mobile communication device while the truck is in motion.

    Oregon Department of Transportation (ODT), has a monumental cost to retrofit there trucks with hands-free equipment. Our state Civil Emergency Services will be severely hampered in there readiness training. Our state timber industry will be greatly hampered by this proposed law. It doesn’t take much thinking to realize how this law will affect commercial mobile business and safety within this state.

    The bottom line is if this bill passes, there will be a profound negative impact to commercial industries and safety within this great state. The National Safety Council (NSC) is responsible for pushing laws nationally restricting cell phone use. I personally concur with there concern. I do not agree with the wording that our legislators have selected for these proposed house bills. The wording is overly broad. They should say what they mean and mean what they say. The NSC says the problem is cell phone. This new plethora of Oregon mobile communication bills needs to be rewritten to clarify the definition of a cell phone and not include every communication device ever invented.

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