More drivers getting tickets for cell phone use

  • By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, June 14, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

EVERETT — A change in the law a year ago has led to a sharp increase in tickets given to drivers using cell phones on the state’s highways.

Washington State Patrol troopers wrote 6,850 citations to people caught driving with hand-held cell phones to their ears during the first 11 months since the law was changed. That’s up from 1,344 for the same period the year before.

The difference now is law officers can pull over drivers for being on the phone. Previously, they could only write tickets if they observed drivers commit another violation first.

Trooper Keith Leary said many drivers don’t seem to realize the risk they are taking when they get on their cell phones while behind the wheel.

“I have been behind people who appear to be driving drunk and, lo and behold, they are texting or are on their cell phones,” Leary said. “People don’t understand until they are involved in a collision how dangerous it is.”

Texting is harder to spot because drivers hands are so low, but troopers are catching more drivers tapping out messages while they’re moving down the highway.

Statewide, tickets for texting more than doubled from 225 to 549.

Closer to home, troopers stopped hundreds of drivers on cell phones in District 7, which stretches from Snohomish County north to the Canadian border. Many were pulled over and warned without getting a ticket. Troopers are given the leeway to decide whether to cite or warn based on the situation.

A total of 2,490 drivers suspected of being on a cell phone were pulled over in the region. Of those, 1,268 were given tickets. During the same period a year ago, 211 drivers received cell phone-related citations.

There was no county-by-county breakdown of the violations.

Troopers in northwest Washington also handed out 68 citations to suspected texters, up from 25 the year before.

“We have unmarked vehicles out there,” Leary said. “They aren’t going to know where we are.”

The fine for a cell phone or texting violation is $124.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,

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