July 11, 2014. The City of Beaverton, Oregon, one of America’s leaders in the constitutionally questionable use of traffic-cams as a source of city revenue, is at it again. Local municipal court judge, the Hon. Les Rink, is using the bench to stretch Oregon law beyond its original intent.
Distracted driving is only a few hours younger than driving itself. When car radios first hit the scene over 75 years ago, government officials gave serious consideration to outright banning radios from cars for fear of distracted driving. With the rise of the cellular age came an increase in auto accidents and fatalities directly linked to the use of mobile phones while driving. In 2010 the State of Oregon, with citizen safety in mind, banned the use of hand-held cellular phones while driving with the idea of getting citizens to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. The sole intent of the law was to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road when the car was moving. You know what they say about the road to Hell.
In May 2014, Beaverton Police Officer, D. VanCleve, witnessed a motorist (not me, by the way) move their mobile phone from their lap to their center console. The officer pulled the motorist over and cited them for violating Oregon’s primary ban on Distracted Driving. The motorist protested, attempting to prove the lack of call history on the phone. The phone was not currently in use for speaking or texting. Officer VanCleve then inquired about the phone’s media playing capacity, noting that the phone was a blue-tooth enabled media player that was independently communicating with the car’s hands-free, Bluetooth audio system. Officer VanCleve stated this counted as “use of a communication device” and issued citation.
The motorist, now a defendant, believing that Officer VanCleve was misinterpreting the statute, entered a plea of not guilty and was issued a July 11 court date with the Hon. Les Rink. At the hearing the defendant produced cellular bills and the manual to the hands-free, Bluetooth system in the vehicle, demonstrating there was no active use of the mobile phone during the period of time in and around when Officer VanCleve issued the citation, and any potential use would have been hands-free in accordance with current public interpretation of Oregon’s distracted driving laws. Officer VanCleve quoted the law as any use of any device for “two-way communication” was illegal. The Hon. Les Rink sided with Officer VanCleve, a Beaverton policeman noted for ticketing motorists for using GPS units in their vehicles. The defendant was found guilty of violating Oregon’s Distracted Driving law because their phone was independently “communicating” with the car’s audio system. The City of Beaverton made $160 from the decision. From what I know of the case, this appears to be a common outcome in the Hon. Les Rink’s court.
The Hon. Les Rink is setting unchallenged legal precedents with his rulings in Beaverton’s Municipal Traffic Court. Oregon’s Distracted Driving law, originally meant to get drivers to stop talking and texting while driving, has radically evolved with the help of the Hon. Les Rink. It is now illegal for any driver in Oregon to actively or passively use any electronic device capable of any two-way communication while driving… at least in the jurisdiction of the City of Beaverton and Officer VanCleve. This includes media-players, GPS units, wi-fi enabled tablets, modern, integrated audio systems, and of course, any cellular device. The Hon. Les Rink has single-handedly, and with little challenge, called into question the legality of all hands-free devices. His rulings give tacit permission to any officer or deputy to ticket any motorist if they suspect any such device is in use in the vehicle… and it has nothing to do with holding the device in your hand and using it to talk or text. The device simply has to be turned on and engaged in some form of two-way communication with some other device.
This article is not meant to lambaste the Hon. Les Rink for gross misinterpretation of Oregon’s distracted driving laws and violating the civil liberties of Oregon’s citizens. America is a country of activist judges with a penchant for making law instead of enforcing or rationally interpreting law, so there is no rational expectation that this situation would be different. I am not advocating a class-action suit be brought against the City of Beaverton, nor an appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court. All I am simply doing is issuing a warning to Oregonians. New car dealerships also need to take heed, as most cars come equipped with potentially illegal audio equipment. Turn off your cell phones, GPS units, media players, tablets and the like before you step in your car and drive through Beaverton. It may be best for you to replace your current audio system with an antique AM/FM receiver circa 1970. If you don’t, and Officer C. VanCleve gives you a ticket, having both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road will be no defense, and the City of Beaverton will help themselves to $160 of your hard-earned money.