Oregon, like every state, has a distracted driving problem. Every 2.5 hours, a distracted driver causes a crash – almost 10 every day. Distracted driving causes 1 in 12 serious injury crashes. It also killed 70 people from 2012 – 2016.
Oregon knew it had a problem, so it organized a task force to attack distracted driving head-on. The task force identified a number of root causes for distraction. The original cell phone law was too complex and it was difficult to enforce. They lacked data on crashes, citations, and convictions related to distracted driving. Education around distraction was of variable quality. And people in Oregon, as they are everywhere, are addicted to their phones.
Oregon’s new cell phone law, which went into effect in October of last year, is designed to fix many of the challenges. The new law makes it clear you are not allowed to use any mobile electronic device – unless it’s hands-free. If you’re under 18, you can’t use a device while driving. Texting and driving is illegal.
Penalties are severe. The law is a primary offense, which means that police can stop you for driving distracted. If you’re stopped for distracted driving, you could pay a fine up to $1,000. If you crash because you were distracted, fines jump to $2,500. And if you have three offenses in ten years, you could pay $2,500 and spend 6 months in jail.
Oregon is also trying to educate its drivers on the dangers of distracted driving. After the first offense with no crash, a judge may let you attend a distracted driving course in place of paying a fine. The course needs to be at least 90 minutes in duration and completed within 4 months of the violation.
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To increase awareness of the law, Oregon is running a multichannel marketing campaign. It spans TV, billboards, the web, Facebook, YouTube, print, and radio.
The campaign seeks to educate people on the law and on the dangers of distracted driving. The ads focus on distracted driving fines, the social stigma of distraction, and on the story of a young woman, Alexxyss Therwanger, killed by distracted driving. Her story is in the video below.
But is it working?
The Oregon cell phone law has been in effect for 8 months. The law is clear in its definition of what is illegal. The penalties are severe. The state is running education and awareness campaigns. They’re attacking many of the core distracted driving problems they identified before the new law. So, is it working?
Before the new law in October went into effect, Oregon drivers were actively distracted by texting and app use 11.3% of the time. After the law, as of April 1, that percentage dropped to 9.7%, a 14%+ decrease.
For perspective, there are 2.8 million drivers in Oregon. With an average 72 minutes of driving time per day, this drop is like taking 45,000 distracted drivers off the road. And with 10 distracted driving crashes daily, it’s like removing 12 years of crashes.
The law has also affected phone calls. Handheld phone calls have reduced slightly after the law. Bluetooth hands-free calls jumped slightly from 1.4% to 1.8%. This behavior is what you would expect to see in a state that has a handheld ban.
Oregon’s distraction is following a familiar script so far. After the law goes into effect, there’s heightened public awareness with media coverage and advertisements. The results are great and distraction drops. But what can happen afterward is that distraction will gradually increase. There are fewer news articles and the initial campaign burst of PSAs stop. Awareness falls. Distraction rises again.
This is the typical trap that states find themselves in when introducing these laws. It’s difficult to keep the public’s attention on one issue for months on end. Media will move on to other stories. Ad dollars dry up.
What’s needed is an approach that merges government regulations, auto insurance, and technology. Companies like TrueMotion can provide insurers the technology to measure and benchmark distraction. Our technology can also help reduce distracted driving through an insurers’ mobile app. In certain populations, we’ve seen a 20% reduction in distraction. Plus, personalized mobile campaigns are easy to implement and cost-efficient. Regulators can work with insurers to better track crashes caused by distraction at a state level and implement additional measures.
One area where Oregon could make an immediate improvement is its crash report. It currently has a section for impairment. But it does not include driving under the influence of technology. This is true of most states.
Will Oregon’s distracted driving continue to drop? We’ll check in and give you an update in a few months.
What do you think of the results? How do you think states can reduce distracted driving? Let us know on Twitter.