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Money and muscle target texters

Two Jackson County law enforcement agencies are teaming up to keep a sharper eye out for distracted drivers whose attention is on their phone screens or elsewhere.

Patrols from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Medford police plan to team up through Saturday, Dec. 22, utilizing funds from a $10,000 grant to pay overtime costs for officers who participate. Department officials hope it will bring awareness to the problem of distracted driving and help prevent crashes.

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Drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol is “commonly acknowledged” as a holiday issue, police said in a news release, but that distracted driving is also an issue. There are already more vehicles on the roads, and winter weather such as snow, rain and wind can hamper safety further. Add any number of distractions, including cellphones, to the mix, and the danger level goes up even more, police said.

“We tend to see an increase in crashes this time of year, and it’s hard to attribute to any one thing,” said Sgt. Julie Denney with the sheriff’s office.

Distracted driving “occurs when a driver diverts attention to something not related to driving that uses the driver’s eyes, ears or hands,” according to the Oregon Department of Transportation website. The site adds that there are four types of driver distraction, including visual, auditory, manual, defined as “handling something other than the steering wheel,” and cognitive, which is defined as “thinking about something other than driving.”

“We look for it all the time,” said Sgt. Trevor Arnold with Medford police.

Distracted driving contributed to the death of 3,450 people across the U.S. in 2016, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers. In Oregon, there were 65 fatal crashes from 2012-16 that involved a distracted driver, according to ODOT records. Of that number, three were in Jackson County and six were in Josephine County.

Locally, the sheriff’s office has written 184 cellphone citations to date for 2018, with 249 for all of 2017. Medford police issued 69 in 2017, with 118 to date in 2018.

Oregon has prohibited drivers from using cellphones that are not hands-free since October 2017, and updates to the law in July 2018 made for steeper penalties. A first offense that doesn’t contribute to a crash is a Class B violation, which comes with a fine of up to $1,000. A second offense, or a first offense that contributes to a crash, is Class A violation, which is punishable by fine of up to $2,000. A third offense in 10 years can be charged as a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $2,500 and up to six months in jail, police said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.

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