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Our view: Distracted driving a serious crime

Like with drunken driving, attitudes must change

Published on September 26, 2017 12:01AM

A law that goes into effect on Sunday will increase the penalty for distracted driving in Oregon and broaden the definition of what “distracted” means.

The upgraded punishments reflect the ever-increasing danger of controlling a speeding vehicle while also operating an array of digital devices, which is making our roads as dangerous as they have been in decades.

Using a hand-held device while behind the wheel will soon cost you $260 to $1,000 for your first offense, $435 to $2,000 for your second and up to six months in jail for your third. And that’s not just talking or texting. Any momentary glance, while in motion or at rest in the roadway, is eligible.

And it could cost you even more than that — a serious injury, an expensive fix, a fatal accident. More than 3,100 people die every year in cellphone-related crashes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s a serious public health threat, though not significantly different from ones we have faced before.

Drinking and driving, in the days before the dangers of such action were known, was laughed about or even admired as a rite of passage. But as fatalities mounted and innocent victims demanded to be heard, a nationwide public outcry called out for action. Advertising campaigns broadcast the danger of drinking and driving, law enforcement agencies committed resources to catching lawbreakers, and the justice system upped the penalties for those convicted of engaging in illegal conduct.

And although drinking and driving remains an issue, you would be hard-pressed to find any American who doesn’t know that it is a dangerous, illegal act that carries with it serious consequences.

That must now be the case with distracted driving as well. Until the not-too-far future when our cars are driving themselves, people are going to be bombarded with more gadgets and gizmos that do not play nice with operating a large piece of machinery traveling fast and carrying our loved ones. Not taking that responsibility seriously must be a serious crime.


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