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Hands off that cell phone June 10

The Washington State Patrol is making sure its troopers are heard.

On Thursday, June 10, patrolmen are enacting a zero tolerance policy on cell phone use while driving, the same day a new state law takes effect.

Law enforcement throughout Washington can give a $124 ticket to anyone seen driving while using a cell phone without a hands-free device and/or

for texting while driving.

Legislation was passed making the almost 2-year-old secondary violation into a primary offense because law enforcement could pull a vehicle over only if the driver was breaking the law in another way, e.g. speeding.



Stipulations gone

Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste said some drivers were spiteful about the law.

"They would look right at our troopers - with phones held to their ears," Batiste said. "They knew that without another violation we couldn't do anything."

The state patrol has written about 3,000 tickets and given about 5,900 warnings since the secondary offense law was enacted.

"Drivers have already had nearly two years to adjust their driving habits," Batiste said.

"We will fully enforce this law from day one."



Local impact

Sequim Police Chief Robert Spinks said they've only enforced a handful of violations for cell phone and texting use. He's sure the numbers will increase but not dramatically.

"The No. 1 complaint I've had in the past five years is traffic," Spinks said.

"We've tried to zero in on these kinds of drivers."

He said Sequim Police used to have one full-time and one part-time officer dedicated to traffic safety but cuts in 2009 brought the numbers down.

A small sum of overtime monies granted from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission allowed for additional police time on traffic and road surveillance, Spinks said.



Preventing a ticket

State Patrol Trooper Krista Hedstrom said if you have an important phone call, then pull over in a safe place.

"Take the nearest exit," Hedstrom said.

"Don't line up on the shoulder."

She advises people to stay off the phone entirely in the car but if they must talk while driving, then to buy a hands-free device.

"There are so many of them out there," she said.

"We have much better ones now that cut out

road noise."

Most cell phones offer speakerphones that are permissible under the law.

Walkie-talkie phones also are available.

"It all comes down to if you are holding the phone up to your ear," Hedstrom said.



Cell phones not alone

Devices such as MP3 players and mobile GPS devices aren't included in the new law but that doesn't mean people are exempt from recklessness, Hedstrom said.

"If someone's driving causes possible risk, then we always have negligent driving," she said.

Hedstrom once followed a driver that she thought was impaired because he was swerving.

When she stopped him, he was talking on his cell phone, reading a menu and steering with his knee.

"Talking on a cell phone is a huge driver distraction," Hedstrom said.

"It's my belief that the law is going to make it a lot safer."



Puppy

endangerment

Spinks said reducing distractions, like cell phones, is a good thing.

"Everyone's seen those stereotypical people putting on their makeup or eating a sandwich or with dogs in their laps," Spinks said.

"Honestly, all of those things should be illegal. Anything to help reduce those distractions is good."

Hedstrom said there's no law against driving with a dog in the driver's lap but it does pose a threat.

"Once, in Poulsbo, a woman was driving with a Chihuahua and it got under the gas pedal and she couldn't stop," she said.

"It caused her to rear end a car and she was cited."



Law enforcement

setting example

The law exempts police officers, but Batiste says professional drivers such as state troopers should be focused.

The state patrol rewrote its regulation manual to prohibit state troopers from texting while driving and requiring cell phone hands-free devices.

"Using a hands-free device is a good idea for everyone, including troopers," Batiste said.

"Every driver has an obligation to be at their best while behind the wheel."



Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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