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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Lawmakers Vote To Increase Fines For Texting, Cell Phone Use

Kevin Mooney
Northwest News Network

It could soon be a lot more expensive to be caught texting while driving in Oregon.

State lawmakers voted Sunday to double the maximum fine for texting behind the wheel to $500. That’s mostly for repeat offenders. First-time violators would also see an increase.

The bill was one of Senate President Peter Courtney's priorities. The Democrat says texting while on the road is fast becoming a public safety emergency. "I can almost tell you when I'm behind a car whether or not someone's texting because of the way they drive," he says. "And sure enough I pull up beside them, at a stop sign, because I just can't wait to get up beside them. And sure enough, they're texting. You can tell it, just by their conduct. When that's going on on I-5, that's pretty serious stuff."

The increased penalties also apply to drivers using a cell phone without a hands-free device. It cleared both the Oregon Senate and the House on Sunday and now heads to the governor's desk. Oregon lawmakers expect to finish up their 2013 legislative session Monday.

On the Web:

SB 9: Cell phone use while driving - Oregon Legislature