What Oregon’s new distracted driving law means for transit workers

Oregon’s new distracted driving law took effect yesterday, and it means that using a cell phone, hand-held two-way radio, or other hand-held electronic device while you’re driving can earn you a huge fine – $260 for your first offense, $435 for your second, and up to $2,500 and six months in jail for a third offense. There are exceptions for some but NOT all of our transit workers, and since many of our members use two-way radios during work, we want to make sure you know what to expect:

  • The new law, approved by the Oregon Legislature last year, generally bans the use of any hand-held electronic device unless your vehicle is parked on the side of the road.
  • There’s an exception to that rule for “commercial vehicle drivers” who need to use hand-held two-way radios for work. That includes anyone operating a vehicle with 16+ seats or with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 lbs. and above. That means that fixed-route operators and long school bus operators should be able to use two-way radios and other communications devices totally normally.
  • Anyone driving a smaller vehicle, like a truck or passenger car, risks a ticket if they use two-way radios while driving. So road supervisors, fare inspectors, on-street agents, and maintenance workers likely CANNOT use handheld two-way radios on the road in a company vehicle without risking a ticket, unless you pull over and park.
  • Paratransit operators may or may not be able to use two-way radios depending on the size of the vehicle in terms of maximum passenger loads or vehicle weight.
  • The guidelines above apply ONLY to handheld two-way radios; if a radio or other device is physically mounted in the vehicle, you can use it as you normally would.

Obviously, this new law doesn’t apply consistently to transit workers, and that’s going to create confusion about what is and isn’t allowed. That’s why the union is planning to work with our staff and partners in the Oregon Legislature to create a technical fix for this law to allow all transit workers to use two-way radios or other necessary electronic devices normally in the course of your work day, just like police, paramedics, or agricultural workers.

Until then, if you have any doubt at all about whether you’re exempt from the law, DON’T RISK IT! It’s not worth the ticket, possible jail time, and points on your driver’s license. It may take some time out of your day, but the law is the law: when in doubt, pull over to use your radios, cell phones, or other handheld electronic devices.