Five Washington motorists made their way through an obstacle course of sorts last week texting answers to questions or talking to Washington State Patrol troopers on their cell phones during an event designed to show the rest of the state how a persons ability to drive can be hampered by cell phone use.
The state Legislature passed a law last year that made it illegal to drive while texting or while talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. The texting regulation went into effect Jan. 1 and the hands-free law goes into effect July 1.
It was definitely an eye-opener for a lot of drivers, Washington State Patrol information officer Krista Hedstrom said of the event. Most came in thinking they were able to do both safely, but all walked away saying they would not do either anymore.
Hedstrom said the drivers were crossing shoulder lines, nearly missed turns and stopped late at stop signs because they were focused on something else.
There are a couple of exceptions to the law. If the driver requires emergency assistance, he or she can dial 9-1-1. The law states the phone cannot be held up to the ear, so if a hands-free device or speakerphone is used, the officer will not cite the driver. People with hearing aids can use a cell phone by holding it up to their ear.
The hands-free law is considered a secondary offense, Hedstrom said, meaning you have to get pulled over for another traffic violation before we can cite you on the cell phone usage for calling or texting.
Hedstrom said it is all right for drivers to dial a phone number into the phone for a call, but that they need a hands-free device to place the call.
Most new phones have what is called a Blue Tooth option. The user can purchase extra equipment, which looks like a single headphone, and it communicates without wires to the cell phone. There are also options for people with phones that cannot use Blue Tooth technology. The item works the same but has a wire that plugs into the phone.
For the complete text of the law, visit apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW and look up Revised Code of Washington number 46.61.687.
Other laws that take effect this summer include a requirement for the state Department of Licensing to include bicycle and pedestrian safety information in drivers curriculum, a requirement for law enforcement agencies to file a police report regarding a victim of identity theft, a directive that increases the severity of the offense of not transferring a motor vehicle title within 45 days after purchase and a mandate that makes the penalty for attempting to elude a police vehicle more stringent.
For a breakdown of traffic laws, visit the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission at www.wtsc.wa.gov.
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