Oregon goofs with cell phone exemption

The leap in logic to make an exception for those who drive as part of their jobs runs the legislation right off the cliff.

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You can hear it now: "I'm just doing my job, officer."

The Oregon Legislature left a loophole big enough to drive a semi-truck through in its new law banning talking on hand-held cell phones while driving.

The lawmakers decided it would be OK to let people use hand-held cell phones if they needed to drive as part of their job.

Rep. Carolyn Tomei explained to The Associated Press that she and her colleagues were thinking only about those whose "vehicle is part of their job -- the tow truck driver, the bus driver, taxi drivers, delivery people."

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says only Oregon has such a broadly worded exemption. Other states that ban cell phones allow use only by emergency responders or tow truck drivers.

Oregon legislators may have thought they were doing a good thing, a business-friendly thing.

But the leap in logic to make an exception for those who drive as part of their jobs runs the legislation right off the cliff.

Now the courts will have to decide whether a motorist's vehicle is part of his/her workplace. With today's "we have to be in contact every second of the day" mentality, it's going to be tough for judges to say otherwise.

The bottom line is unless there is a life-and-death emergency no one needs to be talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving.

Do the legislators actually think the roads will be safer by allowing any exemptions other than in an emergency? Are tow truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers and delivery people so much better drivers that they can overcome the scientifically documented distracting effects of cell phones? What study was ever done to show that?

Aside from the safety argument -- which should be strong enough to trump any other argument to the contrary -- there is absolutely no need to allow the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. The hands-free technology can be used be everyone, regardless of their line of business.

The state took a strong stand by allowing law enforcement to pull drivers over and setting the minimum fine at $142. Unfortunately, it sabotaged its own good work by faulty logic.

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