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Patrol deputies don't have to go hands-free on the move

I saw a sheriff's deputy using a phone to his ear while driving and turning a corner recently. Can you tell me if law officers are exempt from laws they're supposed to enforce. It's dangerous for everyone — especially law enforcement personnel — to use a phone while driving. My family and I use hands-free phoning in our cars.

— Linda, Ashland

Your commitment to hands-free phoning while driving is to be commended, Linda.  I'm sure we speak for others when we say we wish there were more of you sharing our Southern Oregon roads.

We should note that your question has been waiting to be answered for a little while, so that "recent" sighting you mention happened over the summer. We reached out to the Capt. Nate Sickler with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department to see if you spotted a law-breaking deputy in the ranks. 

"Public safety officers are exempted from the cell phone law," Sickler said.

Sickler added that as a policy, patrol deputies are encouraged to use the hands-free equipment in the vehicle and to pull over to make phone calls whenever possible, but deputies can face situations where holding a phone while driving is necessary.

“We try to pull over and use the hands-free, but not every situation makes that applicable,” Sickler said.

One situation where using a hands-free isn't applicable is if a deputy has an arrested suspect in the back of the patrol vehicle and the deputy doesn't want the suspect to hear the other end of the conversation.

Sheriff's deputies aren't the only ones exempt from the cell phone law. Sickler pointed us to Oregon State Statute 811.807, the law forbidding us civilians from holding cell phones while driving. The law offers exemptions for public safety officers and emergency services workers, those who carry valid amateur radio operator licenses and utility workers.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.