Troopers find fewer distracted drivers after law takes effect

EVERETT — More drivers seem to be setting aside their cellphones in and around Snohomish County.

One month after a state distracted driving law took effect, Washington State Patrol troopers throughout the region pulled over about 12 percent fewer distracted drivers compared to the month prior.

They issued 80 warnings and five tickets within the first few weeks in Snohomish County, trooper Heather Axtman said.

The law makes it illegal to use hand-held electronics while driving.

The State Patrol is offering a six-month grace period. During that time, troopers are focused on informing drivers about the change in the rules of the road.

“But that’s doesn’t mean that tickets won’t be issued,” Axtman said.

Snohomish County shares a State Patrol district with King, Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties. Between June 22 and July 22, troopers in the district pulled over 76 drivers suspected of being distracted, Axtman said. Nine fewer people were stopped between July 23 and Aug. 23.

Axtman has seen more attentive drivers while she is out on patrol. She also has noticed lots of cellphone mounts on car dashboards and windshields. The mounts hold phones, so that drivers can make calls or use the GPS hands-free.

She hopes to see this pattern continue.

“Right now, people are very aware. Eventually, people are going to stop hearing about the law just like any other law we have,” Axtman said. “We don’t want people to get comfortable and pick up their phone.”

The law has barred drivers from watching videos, even if it is hands-free. They also can be cited for secondary offenses, such as eating or drinking coffee, if it affects their ability to drive safely.

“We are not telling people in 90-degree heat that you can’t drink water,” Axtman said. “If you spill water on the front of your shirt, we don’t want you to get so distracted that you’re not driving safely.”

Violations now are included on driving records and are reported to insurance companies.

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com

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