State Patrol won’t go easy on drivers holding cell phones

  • Fri May 14th, 2010 3:19pm
  • News

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE — Starting June 10 drivers can expect to be slapped with $124 tickets if they’re caught texting or talking on a mobile phone without a hands-free device.

Officials with the Washington State Patrol announced Friday that there will be no grace period when the new law takes effect next month.

“Drivers have already had nearly two years to adjust their driving habits,” said John Batiste, the State Patrol chief. “We will fully enforce this law from Day One.”

Police sometimes offer people a few weeks to get used to new laws, he said.

Laws prohibiting texting and requiring hands-free devices took effect in 2008, but were considered secondary violations. That meant officers had to pull drivers over for some other reason before they could write a ticket for driving while texting or cell phone violations.

Batiste said troopers saw some drivers flaunting the law.

“They would look right at our troopers with phones held to their ears,” he said. “They knew that without another violation we couldn’t do anything.”

Lots of people use their mobile devices — including iPhones and Droids — to do lots more than send text messages. People update social media sites, such as Facebook, get directions from global positioning programs and check stock quotes, among a myriad of other tasks.

It’s unclear if those other activities are violations of the law, officials said.

“That’s probably going to have to be resolved in court after a citation is issued,” State Patrol spokesman Robert Calkins said. “Someone will have to decide whether surfing to a website constitutes reading a text message. We absolutely think it’s just as dangerous.”

The texting and cell phone requirements are meant to save lives by encouraging drivers to pay attention to driving and driving only, Batiste said.

Since the laws went into effect in 2008, troopers have written about 3,000 tickets and handed out nearly twice as many warnings.

“Few drivers are going to admit they were on a cell phone, or texting, after a crash,” Batiste said. “We are choosing to take action before a collision occurs in hopes of preventing these needless tragedies.”

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, jholtz@heraldnet.com.