As distracted driving continues to become more taboo, cities and states across the country have enacted laws against the dangerous practice that leads to about 6,000 deaths each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In early 2010, for example, the state of Oregon joined safety minded states like California in implementing a hands-free distracted driving law. But 18 months later, Oregonians continue to drive distracted, which has led the Portland Police Department, led by Mayor Sam Adams, to increase regulation with the state’s first regular police patrols for distracted drivers.

“Using a cell phone behind the wheel turns your car into a loaded weapon,” said Adams. “This summer, the city of Portland is making a point that texting and talking on cell phones is deadly – especially for teens.” He’s absolutely right. But even though drivers know that distracted driving is dangerous – now the number one killer of teen drivers – many simply can’t shake the habit. That’s why safety advocates and police departments think that increased regulation could make the difference, as it did with seat belts a decade ago.

Portland has already increased regulation of distracted drivers in the early months of 2011, following the example of pilot distracted driving programs in Syracuse, NY and Hartford, CT. Throughout 2010, Portland police issued 5,759 tickets and 430 distraction warnings to drivers. So far this year, the department has issued 1,911 tickets, an 18 percent increase over this time last year.

One reason for the continued use of cell phones behind the wheel is a loophole in the law that enables drivers to use their cell phones for work purposes. Portland police Traffic Division Captain Todd Wyatt told the Oregonian that drivers can easily get out of a ticket if they walk into court and say they were cited for a business call. “When we have a loophole that’s wide enough to drive a truck through,” he said, “it’s hard to enforce the statute.”

Fortunately, the increased regulation of distracted drivers comes along with revisions to the distracted driving law that would close this loophole. But in the mean time, whether you live in Portland or here in the Bay Area, it’s best to avoid dangerous driving or any interaction with law enforcement. Just put down the phone while you’re behind the wheel.

Photo credit: mrJasonWeaver