Angel Martinez, 16, of Medford, said she believes a new law banning teens from using cell phones while they drive is a good idea. The law goes into effect Tuesday. - Bob Pennell

Driven to distraction

Beginning Tuesday, teen drivers under age 18 won't be allowed to use a cell phone — or any other mobile communication device — while they drive.

"I think it's a good idea," said Angel Martinez, a 16-year-old Medford resident who has her permit. She said learning to drive a car requires juggling enough skills as it is, and the ban could help amateur drivers focus.

The law was adopted in 2007 by the Oregon Legislature to curb injuries and fatalities caused by distracted young drivers. Violators face a $97 citation.

Angel said the new law was discussed at length recently in one of her classes.

"I actually heard about it in family health," she said. "There was a big debate about it."

The law will be enforced as a secondary violation, meaning the driver would have to be detained for something else — such as turning without signalling — before being cited for cell phone use, said Medford police Lt. Bob Hansen.

"It's going to be a little bit tough to enforce since it's secondary," he said. "We would have to observe them doing something else illegally."

The law prohibits using any kind of communication device, including a Bluetooth and a walkie-talkie, he said.

Hansen said solid driving skills are cultivated over time.

"It takes approximately five years for people to gain enough experience to avoid accidents or prevent accidents," he said.

Hansen said this may be just the first of more laws to come restricting the use of cell phones while driving.

He advises drivers not to answer a ringing phone but to pull over and call the person back. People can forget they're driving a 4,000-pound potential weapon, he said.

Paige Henderson, 16, of Central Point, who has her learner's permit, said she doesn't phone and drive at the same time. She said some of her friends have nearly caused accidents because they were distracted by their cell phones.

Paige said her mother uses the cell phone while driving. "She actually uses a headset and it's still really distracting," she said. "It shouldn't just be 16- or 17-year-olds, it should be everybody."

Jacob Parsons, 16, of Medford, hopes to get his learner's permit after the holidays. He doesn't own a cell phone but supports the ban.

"It would definitely help teenagers," he said.

Hansen said issuing citations for distracted driving is not new. Those charged with careless driving face a $242 fine without a crash and $427 with one, he said.

Some states, such as California and Washington, have banned the use of hand-held cell phones for all drivers.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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