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Distracted drivers put others at risk on the road

Let’s face it. Our cell phones are becoming more and more a part of our lives, our brains, our bodies and our cars. We can’t do without them. Everything’s in there — our address book, texting, emails, pics and the portals to vital sites like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, all of it.

So, when that little rectangular world chimes to us, we at least want to see who’s there. It might be a short little text that can change our day. If it’s a call and we try to pull over, they could be done and gone and we might miss something big.

But driving is serious business and we have enough distractions with lattes, children, grooming in the mirror and that yummy bagel we have to eat before the next meeting or class. But still, we think, I can read a little text with hardly any danger at all — and I’ll hold it below the window so the “danger” of a ticket is removed, right?

Oregon passed a law in 2013 to make such nefarious crypto-phoning illegal. Lots of tickets have been issued, but still, according to a study by a group of Southern Oregon University grad students, fatal crashes went up 33 percent in the year ending last September, with 60 percent of these crashes involving “distracted driving.”

Half of drivers answer calls while driving, the study says, adding that many drivers confess to doing phone tasks while alone, but not with others in the car. This means that, like smoking, they don’t want to be seen as endangering others, but will do it if not observed. In a survey of 1,560 Oregonians, the study found that many would support increasing fines to $1,000, which would be a painful lesson an offending driver wouldn’t soon forget. It’s $142 now.

Technology may be helping, as newer cars build cell phones into the radio sound system, using a Siri-like intelligence to respond to our commands to get someone on the phone and chat with them, all without taking our eyes off the road.

We asked Ashlanders: Do you think Oregon’s law against driving while phoning is making life safer — and how do you, while driving, deal with calls and texts?

Dawn ElsbreeIt’s not a smart thing to do. You have to use your intelligence. My teen daughter is very aware about it. She took driver’s ed and learned all the negative consequences of driving while phoning. Cell phone use is way up. I have hands-free integrated into my radio and can tell it what to dial. It’s the same as talking to someone in the car. I keep the call very transactional and finish as soon as possible.

Ari Abrams — The awareness, brought by the law is useful, so you focus on the priority at hand, which is driving. The law helps keep us in check, even if it seems not to be helping. It’s like the cigarette labels, warning of the dangers. I do use it while driving and it takes away from driving. I’d rather pull over when using the phone. I hold the phone below the window because of the law, if I feel the call is important enough. But I use the speaker phone.

Cheryl Latham — I don’t use cell phones. I hope the law is helping. It makes us all vulnerable and I’m totally against cell phone use by drivers. You shouldn’t be using the phone or answer it. It’s totally common sense. We should start throwing texters in jail for a long time, especially if they hurt someone. If they put people in stocks for it, there would be a lot of them in the Plaza.

Sheila Canal — Sure. The law is a safety measure for everyone. It keeps people more focused on driving, instead of being a thousand miles away and not here. My phone never rings. I hardly ever use it and certainly not driving.

Jean Aguerre — (declined photo) The law is good. It’s different than the helmet law. I’m against the helmet law because if you don’t wear the helmet, you can only kill yourself and not take out others. In a car you’re going to take others out. You’re making other people really vulnerable by phoning while driving. The law protects other people, so I would want to constrain you. If you want to go commit suicide on a motorcycle, go for it. I don’t use cell phones. I’ve become Sister Mary Tweezers on this.

Rose Strand — (declined photo) I don’t know if people abide by it, law or no law. I occasionally use the speaker if I need to answer it. I’m good at multi-tasking, with three children.