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Shut Up and Drive, Oregonians 

Shut the hell up and drive, people. And to reinforce the message, here's THE BOOT.

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Once upon a time not all that long ago, in a kingdom not much different from Oregon, there were no cell phones. And life was hard. But somehow, because they were tough and resourceful, the people of the kingdom managed to get by.

And then the Good Fairies Motorola and Nokia appeared and bestowed the wondrous gift of the cell phone upon the people, and they rejoiced. For behold, now they could call up and order a pepperoni pizza or text their BFFs and ask them what they thought of Justin Bieber's new haircut anywhere and at any time, even while driving around in their cars.

We've been indulging in a little levity here, but the problem of people using their cell phones while driving is anything but funny. Research has shown that drivers talking on cell phones are just as impaired as drivers who are legally drunk - and people who text while driving are even worse.

The Oregon Legislature tried to deal with the problem two years ago by passing a law against using a cell phone while driving. But the law contained a yawning loophole: People who needed to use their cell phones in connection with their work were exempt.

That made it easy for somebody who was pulled over by a cop to claim he was using his cell phone for an important conversation with his boss or a customer instead of making an appointment to get his Bichon Frise groomed. That loophole, plus the fact that the fine for PWD (Phoning While Driving) is too low to be much of a deterrent - only $90 - has resulted in Oregon's law being largely ignored.

That could change pretty soon. Last week an Oregon House committee approved House Bill 3186, which would make the restrictions on cell phone use much tighter. Under the bill, only drivers who are calling 911 to report an emergency or engaged in certain specified occupations would be allowed to use cell phones - and even they wouldn't be allowed to text. Everybody else would have to use a hard-wired hands-free set (not a Bluetooth earpiece) or wait until they're off the road to make their calls.

The new law should help. It also would help if the police would take the law seriously and hand out more tickets and fewer citations to cell phone scofflaws. (According to news reports, law enforcement agencies in Central Oregon are starting to do exactly that, and that's a good thing.) And it wouldn't hurt if the fine was increased. If cell phone drivers really are as impaired as drunken drivers, the size of the fine should reflect that.

In the end, though, what needs to happen is for drivers to understand how dangerous, irresponsible and just plain stupid it is to use their phones when behind the wheel. That call or text message isn't so important that it can't wait until you're at home or at the office or wherever.

So shut the hell up and drive, people. And to reinforce the message, here's THE BOOT.

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