On August 2, 2017, Governor Kate Brown signed House Bill 2597 into law. HB 2597 amends our current cell phone law, ORS 811.507, Operating a Motor Vehicle While Using a Mobile Communication Device to Operating a Motor Vehicle While Using a Mobile Electronic Device.
The changes go far deeper than the title, of course. The new law is a reaction to State v. Rabanales-Ramos, a 2015 case that gave us a little more wiggle room when it came to cellphone tickets. Under the new law, a Mobile Electronic Device is defined as any “…device capable of text messaging, voice communication, entertainment, navigation, accessing the Internet or producing electronic mail.” This covers far more than our old definition of communication devices, which was “…a text messaging device or a wireless, two-way communication device designed to receive and transmit voice or text communication.”
Under the new version a court can find us guilty when we “hold” an MED or use an MED “for any purpose”. We can’t use it when we are at a stop sign or stopped in bumper to bumper traffic because “[d]riving means operating a motor vehicle on a highway or premises open to the public, and while temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device or other momentary delays.” That means we can no longer rely on the traditional definition of “driving” – to move or propel.
In addition to the stricter law, the legislature has drastically increased the penalties. Operating a Vehicle while using a Mobile Electronic Device will become a B violation with a presumptive $265 fine. If there is a crash you’re looking at A violation with a presumptive $435 fine. Penalties will increase dramatically for subsequent convictions. For a first offense the court will offer a class in lieu of a fine, but that arrangement puts a conviction on your record. A second conviction in ten years is deemed an A violation, with no option to take a class. The offense will be enhanced to a B misdemeanor, an actual crime with potential jail time with a minimum fine of $2,000 for a third conviction in 10 years. People who were convicted under the previous law will also face the increased penalties, so I’m preparing to challenge prior convictions.
I still see some defenses in there, but they are doing their best to chip away at them. I look forward to fighting back.
It looks like misdemeanor treatment will be based on previous convictions of the new MED law rather than the MCD law we’ve had for a few years.