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Hang Up! Slow Down! Obey Red Lights! Portland Starts Traffic Safety Campaign

Portland is kicking off a summer traffic safety campaign Tuesday.

Local police will be focusing on three main problems. They include speeding; running red lights and using a cell phone while driving.

Twenty percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved  drivers distracted by cell phones, pagers or other activities in the car.

It’s been almost a year and a half since Oregon lawmakers made it illegal to drive while using a cell phone. It’s okay if you have some kind of hands-free device. But holding a phone to your ear is illegal.

Yet as anyone who drives can atest, it’s not an uncommon sight.

Marie Dodds of AAA of Oregon says people may be surprised to learn just how dangerous distracted driving is.

According to Dodds, “Our studies and studies done by other organizations have shown that if you’re texting while driving, it can actually impact your driving more than if you’re driving impaired under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

She says, people do it because they think they’re not going to get caught, or because they think they’re more skilled than other drivers. 

A ticket for using a cell phone while driving can cost $142.

Dan Anderson of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, says the campaign’s main aim is to educate drivers.

“Each month they’ll do a targeted enforcement of distracted driving at known trouble spots in the city. So we’re going to get the word out. We’re going to have signs on the streets. It’s not about catching people by surprise. It’s not about writing tickets. This is about educating the public that driving distracted is unsafe and it’s against the law.”

Anderson says police are also going to try and stop drivers from running red lights. He says national figures show of every three people one knows someone who’s been killed or injured by a driver running a red light.

Summer is a good time to run an enforcement effort, he says, because it’s party season. With outdoor picnics and Fourth of July celebrations, drivers are more likely to drink and drive, speed or get distracted. 

“Seven out of the 10 deadliest days for teen drivers occur between May and August,” Anderson says.

With such an emphasis on bad driving, you’d be forgiven for thinking Oregon’s roads are getting more dangerous.

But  the opposite is true.

Statistics show there were 317 fatalities on Oregon’s roads last year — the lowest number since 1944.

Troy Costales of the Oregon Department of Transportation says there are several reasons we have safer roads nowadays including; better medical procedures for those who are hurt; safer vehicles; improved road design; and more emergency services.

He says there’s another reason too — Oregonians tend to be cautious drivers.

“Rural states typically fare worse when compared to other states. Yet Oregon has been for the last 12 years, Oregon has been significantly from 10 to 20 percent better than the national average. And we’re not supposed to be there, we’re a rural state.”

Rural states tend to have faster, windier and more dangerous roads.

The first enforcement efforts start in Portland Wednesday.

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