The maximum penalty for getting caught talking or texting on a cellphone while driving will double beginning Jan. 1.
Also starting on New Year’s Day, drivers can be fined for smoking with children in the vehicle.
Using a cellphone while driving is considered “distracted driving” and will be promoted from a class D to a class C violation.
The minimum fine will be $142 and can be as high as $500. Currently, the maximum fine is $250.
The stiffer penalty aims to reduce the number of crashes caused by drivers talking or texting on a cellphone, according to Oregon Driver & Motor Vehicle Services.
“I think there’s definitely a safety factor,” said News-Review subscriber Barbara Barnett, 74, of Roseburg. She said she often sees people on their phones while she’s waiting at stoplights.
Lois Maddox, 83, of Umpqua said most people she knows have stopped using cellphones while driving. One person stopped after being fined, and others have put the safety of their children first, she said.
The new smoking offense will be a “secondary” violation. Police officers may issue a citation only if they stopped the driver for another violation.
The maximum fine for the first offense is $250. After that, it’s $500.
David Lee, 58, of Roseburg said he was disappointed lawmakers chose to make the smoking offense only a secondary violation.
“My thoughts are they were doing the right thing and then (they) went ahead and made it a secondary offense. That seems foolish, if you want to protect kids,” Lee said. “The kids have no choice. They are stuck in the car. The poor kids are suffering the effects.”
Lee also said police should concentrate less on people talking on their cellphones and more on erratic driving, which could be caused from other distractions, like reaching for food or drink.
The state reports that from 2009 to 2011, nine people in Oregon were killed and 673 injured in crashes involving a driver who was using a cellphone.
Dialing a cellphone while driving increases the risk of an accident by six times, and texting increases the risk by 23 times, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
A 2012 phone survey of Oregon drivers found that more than 70 percent agreed cellphones are dangerous to use while driving.
The number of citations in Oregon for using a cellphone while driving rose from 40 in 2008 to 22,892 in 2012, according to the DMV.
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.