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Ask A Cop: When drivers use their cellphones

Editor's note: Every week a Lake Oswego police officer answers your questions in this space. Please send your questions to reporter Cliff Newell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 503 636-1281, ext. 105.

“What is the LOPD policy on drivers talking on cellphones while not paying proper attention to the road?”

 

As with any traffic infraction, the Lake Oswego Police Department doesn’t have a “policy” with regards to how we enforce each particular statute. 

Each officer tries to recognize poor driving behavior and take appropriate action to ensure the behavior is remedied. So a driver stopped for using a mobile communication device (cellphone), may get a warning or may be issued a citation.

It comes down to the officer’s discretion and when it comes to using a cellphone while driving, the officer will probably weigh several factors as to how they will handle the traffic stop. This can include, but is not limited to, if the officer sees other moving infractions which were caused by the cell usage, if there was a large amount of traffic on the road, if there were passengers in the vehicle, if the weather was poor, etc… 

We understand how busy everyone is. It seems we are cramming more and more things to do into every day. But we can’t stress enough how important it is to focus on our driving and leave distractions like our cellphones alone. 

While working a traffic safety detail a short time ago, a local citizen said something in regard to driving that really rang true to us. He said, “Driving has become all too casual,” explaining that with our busy and multitasking lives, it seems we spend more time in the car focusing on distractions rather than our actual driving behavior. These distractions can be our conversations with our passengers, checking on our kids in the back seat, fiddling with our GPS units, changing the radio, or the most common it seems — using our cellphone. 

I say “using” rather than “talking” because most cellphones nowadays can do all sorts of wonderful things. We can surf the Internet, check our email, send and read text messages, check and update our social media sites, listen to music and get directions. 

I’ve stopped drivers for doing all of these things while operating their vehicles because these are all violations if the cell is in the driver’s hands. I find I have to explain that even though the driver wasn’t “talking” on the phone, although the majority of my stops are for that, the driver is needlessly taking his or her eyes off the road, hands off the steering wheel and putting themselves and everyone around them at risk. 

Here is a simple formula to illustrate how much a driver is missing when they’re scanning their phone and not the roadway. Take whatever speed you’re traveling and multiple it by 1.466. This will give you how many feet per second you travel at your mile per hour speed. So at 25 mph you’re traveling roughly 36 feet every second. At 40 mph it’s roughly 58 feet every second and at 55 mph you’re moving roughly 80 feet every second (a quarter of the length of a football field). So, when a driver looks at their phone and not the roadway, for even a second, they cover large distances by essentially faith. Now consider we haven’t even factored reaction time and stopping distances that are added on top of that and you get a sense of how dangerous this can be.   

The Lake Oswego Police Department is committed to making our roads and neighborhoods as safe as possible. Not only do our patrol officers stop motorists for infractions like cellphone usage, the department also has dedicated traffic enforcement officers who focus specifically on driving-related matters. Simon

Additionally, the department also participates in several state-sponsored safety grant programs with specific focuses on curbing poor driving behavior.

All of this means when we do see people using their phones while operating their vehicles, we will do our best to take appropriate enforcement action. For the motorists, it’s a roll of the dice as to whether they get a citation or not, at the very least. And that citation could cost $110. 

 Drive safely.

— Officer Clayton Simon




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