Oregon DOT Wants to “Change Cultural Norms” Related to Distracted Driving

It’s refreshing to see public agencies go beyond PSAs to deter distracted driving, which contributes to thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year. With traffic deaths on the rise in Oregon, state officials are ramping up their efforts.

These unmarked patrol cars will be used to stop distracted drivers, Oregon officials say. Photo: ODOT
Oregon police will enforce distracted driving with a fleet of unmarked patrol cars. Photo: ODOT

Oregon DOT Director Matt Garrett has pledged to “change cultural norms when it comes to distracted driving,” reports Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland, and it sounds like he has a pretty substantial strategy:

Garrett announced a new task force that will be made up of representatives from ODOT, Oregon State Police, AAA Oregon/Idaho, public health agencies, the courts, emergency service providers, academia and the media. (We’ve requested a list of names and more information on the task force but ODOT says it’s still preliminary and details are yet to be finalized.)

Beyond the task force and marketing efforts the most encouraging news is that the Oregon State Police are now using a fleet of 40 new unmarked patrol cars “to observe and document distracted driving.” Yesterday OSP announced they’ve already notched a 37 percent increase in enforcement. OSP Captain Dave Anderson said they’re focusing on five specific behaviors: speed, occupant safety (seat belt use), lane usage, impaired driving and distracted driving.

Behind Anderson and Garrett as they spoke to media in Salem yesterday was a wrecked OSP patrol car that was rear-ended by a distracted driver last year and a big road sign that read: “U drive, u text, u pay.”

The efforts come after a marked increase in fatal traffic crashes last year when road deaths spiked 20 percent.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Transport Politic weighs in on Sound Transit’s $50 billion transit plan for the Seattle region. Let’s Go LA looks at why car ownership might seem less affordable to middle-class households today than a generation ago. And Greater Greater Washington has some helpful tips about pedestrian “beg buttons.”

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