By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
EVERETT — Things have changed dramatically in the nearly quarter century Sgt. Kirk Rudeen has been bird-dogging the highways and byways of Snohomish County.
He began in the 1980s when cup holders became the rage to accommodate new drive-through fast-food restaurants and cups of coffee for longer and longer morning commutes.
Cellphones followed. Their ever-evolving technology brought seductive instant Internet access, cameras and text messaging.
The result, Rudeen said, has been more distracted drivers, mostly between their 20s and 40s.
A quick spin along Evergreen Way through Everett and I-5 underscores his point.
It took just a few minutes before he pulled over a Texas woman on Evergreen. Her eyes had wandered from the road to her iPhone. She was trying to reset her playlist.
A few blocks away, he stopped a man in a delivery van. He had one hand on the steering wheel, but his neck was bent down and eyes were diverted. He explained to the trooper that he was tapping into GPS.
A man from Sri Lanka in a rental car was the next driver whose eyes were scanning his hand-held technology. He was looking on GPS for directions to the state Department of Motor Vehicle’s office.
“It’s a ‘You-caught-me’ sort of thing and it’s one excuse after another,” Rudeen said.
Several Snohomish County law enforcement agencies are in the middle of emphasis patrols looking for texters and talkers along with drivers who aren’t wearing seat belts. The campaign began May 20 and ends June 2.
Last year, during this same time period, officers on routine and extra patrols statewide issued 3,171 seat belt violations among 11,047 stops.
Similarly, last year during the same stretch, 1,059 cell phone violations were written. By contrast, in 2010, the same year cell phone use became a primary law in Washington, only 63 drivers were cited statewide.
Rudeen worries that drivers are establishing bad habits that could cost lives.
Critical seconds and nano-seconds are squandered talking on cell phones and glancing at small screens while zipping down freeways at 60 mph, he said. The brain needs time to process information and shift from one thought to another.
“Your reaction time is delayed,” Rudeen said. “Your mind is trying to figure out what to do, to brake or swerve. It’s actually a rather complicated exercise for the brain, which must perceive the danger and understand what you are doing to determine what action to take.”
Rudeen figures at 60 mph, a car is traveling at more than 87 feet per second. The average reaction time is 11/2 seconds, which means most folks take about 130 feet before they begin to react.
Lose a second or two to the distraction of a text or cell phone conversation and soon a driver could be traveling the length of a football field before reacting, he said.
On the same trip, Rudeen pulled over a Mukilteo woman, 55, who was talking on a cell phone. She told him the call had been an emergency she had to take and tried to convince him to let him off with a warning.
He gave her a ticket. It’s best to pull over to the shoulder or off the freeway altogether before making a call, he said.
Talking while driving with a cell phone to the ear remains the most common infraction involving hand-held wireless communication devices, according to state statistics.
Before the law changed in 2010, making cell phone citations a primary offense, there were about 700 cell phone citations issued in a given month. After the law changed, the number of citations has been hovering around 4,000 a month.
Text messaging while driving is harder to enforce. It averaged about 30 a month before the law was toughed up and about 130 a month afterward.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.