Law may fix cell phone puzzle

Sean C. Morgan

The hands-free cell phone law will change Jan. 1, and it should clear up confusion about who may use a cell phone without a hands-free device.

Sweet Home Police Department has issued 10 citations since the law went into effect, said Police Chief Bob Burford.

“Most of our enforcement comes when we see bad behavior and see it’s associated with the unlawful use of a cell phone while driving,” Burford said.

Enforcing it has been an issue at times.

When drivers claim to be using their phones based on the exception in the current law, “how am I supposed to prove that it wasn’t?” asked Officer Randy Gill. “With any law, a judge can interpret the law.”

The Oregon Legislature’s intent is that cell phones can be used when the driver’s job is to drive a vehicle.

The law that went into effect last Jan. 1 “didn’t include blanket coverage for anybody to say, ‘I was calling work,’” Gill said. It’s meant for police officers, firefighters and paramedics, tow truck drivers responding to a crash or delivery drivers whose jobs are to drive from point A to point B.

That’s the local judge’s interpretation, said Gill, who has written two citations for violating the law.

The new law will remove the exemptions, prohibiting the use of cell phones without a hands-free device, for everyone except law emergency personnel and tow truck drivers responding to a crash, he said.

The existing law has created a lot of confusion, he said. He pulled over a contractor a couple of months ago, who told him a Lebanon officer said it was OK for him to use his phone while working. But the contractor, in fact, was not exempted from the law.

The new law will make enforcement easier, Gill said, noting that he’s not a fan of the law.

Drivers can legally operate an iPod while driving, selecting music, Gill said, but “when the iPod is a cell phone, you can’t do it.”