Driver: Put down that phone

By Brian Soergel | Jul 27, 2017
Courtesy of: Target Zero

Keep your hands to yourself. In other words, off your phone and on your steering wheel.

Washington state’s new distracted driving law, which went into effect Monday, July 23, not only makes it illegal to use hand-held cellphones while driving, but all electronic devices, including tablets, laptops and video games.

Tickets for driving while using hand-held electronics will go on drivers’ records and be reported to their insurance providers.

Distracted driving is certainly a problem. You no doubt have seen in-car texters, or maybe have snuck in a text yourself. Be honest.

In 2016, Edmonds police issued 347 traffic infractions for using cellphones or text messaging while driving.

“Our traffic unit has done specific emphasis patrols, targeting cellphone usage while driving,” Sgt. Shane Hawley said. “It’s a problem everywhere. You see people with their heads down while driving all the time.”

All officers are trained in signs to watch for in impaired drivers, Hawley said.

“This starts in the academy with DUI enforcement training and continues throughout an officer’s career. Each officer is required to recertify with the blood-alcohol-content breath test instrument and have standardized field sobriety test training.”

In addition, Hawley said one of the department’s traffic-unit officers has advanced training for impaired-driving investigations.

Distracted driving laws have been on the books, but the new one adds muscle, especially as it comes with a $136 fine and is reported to insurance companies.

“Before, it was legal to hold the phone, as long as it was not up to your ear while driving,” Hawley said. “Now you cannot hold the phone at all. Texting was illegal while driving under the old law. The new law does allow minimal use of a finger to activate or open an app or the device. And built-in car devices (Bluetooth via your steering wheel or in-dash navigation) also are legal.”

The new law is considered a primary offense, which means officers can stop a violator if they see the offense, even if there are no other law violations evident.

The new law also includes a secondary offense component: driving while dangerously distracted. In other words, when a driver engages in any activity not related to the actual operation of a vehicle that could interfere with safety.

“This is where the eating while driving or putting on makeup while driving comes into play,” Hawley said. “That is a secondary offense. We cannot simply stop someone if we see it. They would have had to have done something else.

“For example, if someone crosses over into the next lane of travel because they are putting on makeup, we would stop the driver for the lane travel violation, and could write the infraction for this part of the law as well.”

As part of the legislation, there was a built-in grace period for public education, extending into 2019. But Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed that portion, striking down the grace period and making the law effective July 23.

“People should be aware that it's not just phone calls, but texting, too,” Hawley said. “And you can't even use at stop signs. You have to completely pull out of the roadway or lane of travel to use your device as a driver. Even if you are stopped at a red light, or Interstate 5 through downtown Seattle at rush hour, you cannot use the phone.

“Emergency calls to 911 are the only exemption. If you need to report a crime occurring in front of you and follow the car, that is allowed.”


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