The measure toughens an existing law by making it a primary offense to hold a cell phone to your ear or text while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
It also bans all cell phone use and texting by licensed drivers under 18, allowing police to stop those younger drivers even if they are using a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth.
In the end, this is a public safety bill for me, Gregoire said, surrounded by a small crowd of people including the chief of the Washington State Patrol.
To those who have said to me that its no different than having a cup of coffee, the coffee doesnt talk back to me. Coffee doesnt have anything to say to me. A cell phone does, she said.
What if I am a young person and my boyfriend or girlfriend is breaking up with me. Am I really concentrating on what I am doing? she continued. While I wish we all could be able to talk on a cell phone in a car, I really do, the fact of the matter is, its without question a public safety issue.
Since 2007, using a hand-held phone has been a secondary offense, meaning police needed another reason to stop a vehicle, like speeding, before they could issue the driver a $124 citation.
In 2009, the Washington State Patrol contacted 5,141 drivers about the phone in their hands and wound up writing 1,607 tickets. They handed out 236 tickets for texting which can be harder to observe at freeway speeds.
Use of a hands-free communication device, such as a Bluetooth, remains legal.
State patrol Chief John Batiste said his agency and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission will conduct a public education campaign about the law aimed at getting drivers to switch to hands-free equipment or stop using a phone while driving.
We want you to put that cell phone away, put it in your glove box, in your purse until you arrive at a place of safety, he said. Driving should be your primary focus.
Batiste also said state troopers will not use hand-held phones except in emergency situations.
In signing the bill, Gregoire said the law will help troopers who have found themselves driving in a marked car on a freeway and seen drivers on their cell phone looking directly at them, flaunting it.
When that happens, she said, There is something wrong with the enforcement capacity of Washington State Patrol. I find that troubling.
Washington is the sixth state making it a primary offense to use a hand-held phone.
The new law takes effect in June.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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