SALEM - Oregon is a step closer to joining other West Coast states that ban use of hand-held cell phones while operating a motor vehicle.
The Oregon Senate on Tuesday narrowly approved a bill to impose a maximum $90 fine on drivers caught texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone.
The measure, which now returns to the House for action on amendments, cleared its last major hurdle after supporters said drivers who become distracted by using hand-held cell phones are a menace to themselves and others on the road.
The bill does not apply to drivers using a cell phone equipped with a handsfree device. It also has exceptions for certain drivers, including those working in public safety.
Sen. Ginny Burdick and other supporters of the bill say traffic crashes involving drivers talking on cell phones cause 2,600 deaths a year and thousands more injuries nationwide.
She cited one study estimating that 80 percent of the nation's cell phone users talk and drive at least some of the time.
"We have to get a handle on this. It's not just drivers at stake; it's the innocent victims. Drivers using cell phones really are impaired," the Portland Democrat said.
The measure was approved despite objections from Sen. Jeff Kruse, who called it a "stupid bill, to say the least."
"This is more Nanny State. Let's leave the people of Oregon alone, for God's sake," the Roseburg Republican said. "This is an issue of distracted driving. Singling out cell phones as the only bad thing people do while they are driving is absurd."
If the measure wins final approval, Oregon will join its neighboring states of Washington and California in restricting the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. There are similar bans in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.
In 2007, Oregon lawmakers made it illegal for teenagers younger than 18 to talk and drive, but the law said police could ticket teens only if they had been stopped for another traffic violation. Local police have said that provision made the law difficult to enforce.
The bill that won approval Tuesday would still prohibit teens from driving and talking, even on a handsfree set, and make it a primary offense for drivers of any age to text or use a hand-held cell phone.
The measure is House Bill 2377