On Thursday, June 10, police agencies around the state begin enforcing Washington’s newly-revised law restricting the use of wireless devices by drivers.
The revised law makes texting or improper cell phone use primary offenses, meaning that drivers can be pulled over for those violations alone. It also prohibits the use of electronic devices by younger drivers with an Intermediate Driver’s License or Learner’s Permit, with or without a hands-free device.
“If you’re holding the phone to your ear, you’re likely to be stopped,” said Captain Chris Gundermann of the state patrol’s field operations bureau. “We will be flexible with virtually any type of headset or speakerphone device, but holding the phone itself to your ear will get our attention.”
Since 2008 the law has prohibited drivers from texting while driving, and required those talking on cell phones to use hands free devices.
However, the earlier version of the law was “secondary” meaning that officers had to see a different violation in order to make the traffic stop.
Gundermann noted that those with hearing aids are exempt, as are those reporting an emergency to 911. Troopers will inquire about exemptions once the person has been pulled over.
Texting can be harder for troopers to spot, because the unit is normally held lower than when talking on a cell phone. Gundermann says studies show that those reading or sending a text message take their eyes off the road for up to five seconds.
“We’ll be looking for people who clearly aren’t watching the road. We’ve had a couple years to practice spotting this behavior and can usually tell when someone is texting. Sooner or later the phone comes up high enough that we can see it and make the stop.”
At the Department of Licensing, Director Liz Luce is urging parents to help with enforcement of the complete ban on electronic devices for those with beginner licenses.
Statistics have long shown that younger drivers make up a disproportionate number of those injured or killed on the highway.
Multiple traffic violations on an intermediate driver’s license can lead to suspension and even an extension of the intermediate license restrictions until the driver turns 21.
Safety experts recommend people not talk on the phone at all while driving, pointing out that the conversation itself is a distraction.
“Ideally, we would like to see all drivers save their phone conversations for later and concentrate on the road. Study after study has demonstrated that talking on the phone while driving seriously impairs your awareness and ability to react,” said Lowell Porter, executive director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.