Bicyclists are legally required to come to a complete stop at stop signs. Skateboarders are not permitted outside of skate parks within Portland’s city limits. Oregon drivers are not allowed to use their cellphones while driving. Laws that aren’t enforced aren’t laws, they’re just suggestions.
It’s almost common sense that using a cellphone while driving results in accidents. Any time you take your eyes off the road while driving a car, you’re putting yourself at risk. Before 2007, talking on a cellphone was tricky enough, but after Apple released the first iPhone that fateful July followed up quickly by Google’s Android platform, people are now writing emails, updating their Facebook status and even watching YouTube movies while tooling down the road at highway speeds.
When Oregon passed a law banning cellphone use in early 2010, it only made sense. Now, more than a year later – why isn’t it working? The answer’s easier than you might think – the law’s not working because it’s not being enforced. In 2010, Portland police issued just 372 tickets and 295 warnings.
Mayor Sam Adams is going to make a change to that. Thanks to a minor alteration in the law in the legislature, the Mayor’s declaring open season on motorists using their cellphones.
Why has the ban done nothing to reduce cellphone use up until this point? The lower the likelihood of getting a ticket for violating a particular law, the more likely people are to violate the law if it’s convenient. If you’re a pedestrian and no cars are coming, would you cross a crosswalk against a “don’t walk” signal? If you do, you’re violating the law. Since it’s almost never enforced, you can see people break this law all the time in Portland.
The same applies to bicyclists who run stop signs when there are no cars around. It sucks to lose all the momentum when there aren’t any other cars, so why stop – especially if almost no one gets a ticket for this behavior?
How about a driver turning against a red arrow if there’s no oncoming traffic? Performing a rolling stop at an empty intersection? Tinting your car’s windows darker than the state’s legal limit? Riding a non-street-legal motorcycle or ATV on public roads?
There are so many laws, it’s hard to keep track of them. If they’re not enforced, they aren’t even laws – they’re simply suggestions or ideas (and, sometimes, incredibly poor ideas).
Do we think the cellphone ban is a good idea? Absolutely. The distraction provided by modern cellphones is astounding, especially since many of them don’t have real keyboards so using them without looking at them is almost impossible.
However, we have to ask the legislature this: before you make another idea into a law, can you set aside the funds for enforcement, too? The Oregon people don’t need another good idea from our representatives; we can come up with those ourselves.
This year, the news is a little more encouraging from The Oregonian: “Statewide, Oregon State Police issued 1,012 citations and 2,515 warnings last year. So far this year, troopers have written 613 tickets and given 1,065 warnings, twice the pace of the same period in 2010.”
Are there other laws that are just good ideas to you? Leave ’em in the comments.