Oregon Legislature OKs doubled fines

Oregon lawmakers have voted to increase fines for texting and using handheld mobile phones while driving to as much as $500.

The plan now goes to Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat who approved the expansion and toughening of the state’s distracted driving law in 2011.

oregon state flagMost violators would pay $250 plus fees for texting and cell phone convictions — less than the new maximum. The current maximum fine, $250, would be doubled.

The original Senate bill called for fines as high as $1,000. A rival plan in the House sought to increase the maximum fine to $2,000, but it was ignored.

The increased penalties also apply to drivers under age 18, who are barred from all uses of handheld wireless devices such as smartphones.

Unlike many states, Oregon does not use a graduated scale for violations, which would hike fines for repeat violations. Traffic courts would be able to smack serial offenders with the maximum fines, however.

SB 9 was one of the last pieces of legislation addressed by the House and Senate before adjournment for the year. The plan sailed through the originating Senate, but the final vote was tight in the House.

Sen. Peter Courtney, the state Senate president, was the distracted driving bill’s sponsor. Courtney, D-Salem, has said Oregon should “treat distracted driving the same way we treat drinking and driving.”

The measure makes texting and using handheld communications devices while driving a more serious offense — from class D status to class C — making possible the increased fines.

Oregon lawmakers removed several loopholes in the state texting and handheld cell phone laws in 2011. The original ban on use of the wireless devices was enacted in 2010.

Read about the history of Oregon’s distracted driving laws.

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