PEMCO Poll: Many Portlanders Want Tougher Cell-Phone Penalties

More than 40 percent of motorists in Oregon’s largest city think fines for texting while driving should be higher and nearly one-third believe the penalties should almost double, according to a new survey that also shows high percentages of drivers commit the offense.

According to the results of the poll, released this week by PEMCO Insurance, 31 percent of Portland-area drivers admitted to violating state law by talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving, and 26 percent confessed to texting or emailing from the driver’s seat.

But 42 percent of respondents said sending or receiving text messages behind the wheel should result in more than the $142 fine violators face under current state law. Thirty-two percent believe the fine should be at least $250, and 15 percent thought $500 or more would be appropriate.

And 55 percent stated that all violations for texting or talking on handhelds should be noted on a driver’s record.

A spokesman for the Seattle-based company, which provides Oregon car insurance and other coverage throughout the Pacific Northwest, said the survey responses demonstrate why laws banning the use of mobile devices while driving are taking root nationwide.

“Distracted driving is dangerous, and while our poll results show that most drivers agree, we need to raise awareness to help lower the number of drivers who are focused on their phones rather than on the road,” spokesman Jon Osterburg said in a news release.

State law that took effect in January 2010 made it a primary offense to operate a vehicle while speaking on a hand-held phone or text messaging, emailing or performing similar functions, which means that law enforcement officers may perform a traffic stop for no other reason than suspected texting while driving.

The legislation does not call for any penalty points to be added to a violator’s driving record, and there are exceptions to the law, including for motorists who are summoning or providing medical or emergency assistance and those who are using a mobile device for farming operations.

Many States Getting Stricter Cell Phone Restrictions

Oregon is one of several states to add tough new laws restricting the use of mobile devices by motorists.

In July, New York amended its existing ban to make texting or talking on a handheld while driving a primary offense that adds three points to a driving record and a fine of up to $150. And Pennsylvania earlier this month made texting while driving a primary offense punishable by a $50 fine, although that law does not ban driver use of cell phones.

Thirty-five states and Washington, D.C., now ban texting for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). And 32 states authorize primary enforcement of no-texting laws.

No state bans all cell phone use, according to GHSA, but nine states and the nation’s capital prohibit the use of hand-held phones while driving, and many other states prohibit phone use–including texting–by novice motorists and school bus drivers.

A 2010 National Safety Council report estimated that at least 1.6 million crashes—or 28 percent of all vehicle accidents–nationwide each year are caused by motorists who are either talking on cell phones or texting. Cell phone use accounted for 1.4 million of those crashes, compared to 200,000 attributed to texting.

According to the PEMCO poll, respondents who were more likely to text behind the wheel were less convinced that fines need to be increased. Forty-three percent of those who admitted to texting while driving at least sometimes said the current fine is too high, compared with just 8 percent of motorists who rarely or never engage in that behavior.

Researchers spoke to 600 respondents for the Portland-area survey, which PEMCO says has an accuracy rate of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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