Cell phone law spurs 6-fold increase in tickets

Many more people cited for talking than for texting

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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State troopers have been handing out plenty of $124 tickets in the past three weeks, to sell motorists on a simple idea: driving while driving.

That would be paying attention to the road and other cars, instead of hurtling down freeways at 60 mph with their minds elsewhere.

In the 20 days since a new state law authorized police to pull over drivers for no reason other than talking or texting on cell phones, troopers have turned on their flashers 1,138 times statewide, according to a bulletin from the Washington State Patrol.

But they wrote fewer tickets than that. Once a driver is sitting in a car on the shoulder, troopers still have discretion whether to write the ticket or just give a warning.

So here are the breakdowns since June 10, when the law changed:

• In the 1,138 traffic stops, troopers wrote 667 tickets and issued 471 warnings.

• Of total tickets, 633 were for talking and 34 for texting.

All around the state, the pattern is similar, far fewer texting tickets than chatting tickets. That could mean more people are talking than texting, or that it’s harder for police to see drivers texting.

• The numbers also are similar for the WSP district that troopers patrol in Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, Lewis and Klickitat counties. Troopers wrote 123 tickets for talking on cells and three for texting, and also gave warnings, 50 for talking and five for texting.

Troopers are being encouraged to be serious about targeting these distractions. WSP Chief John Batiste ticketed a driver near Joint Base Lewis McChord in the past couple of days, and announced it in the bulletin.

“This fellow was just driving along talking on his phone,” Batiste said. “He was fully aware of the law and had no excuses.”

The new law is having in impact on troopers’ behavior and drivers’ wallets. Last year in the same time period, troopers wrote only about 110 tickets for driving while using cell phones, roughly one-sixth of the 667 this year.

The Legislature changed the law because there’s no shortage of studies and collision statistics that indicate driving while using cell phones is more dangerous than driving while driving. The danger of texting while driving is very high, calculated in various studies at six to 23 times more dangerous than not engaging in the activity.

To remove all doubt for Clark County residents, a man who was driving while texting struck and killed Hudson’s Bay High School teacher Gordon Patterson on Sept. 15, as Patterson rode his bike home from school. The driver went to prison.

State law now permits drivers to make and receive calls using hands-free devices such as headsets, visor clips or those that are factory-installed in newer cars.

Several companies are offering software that can be installed in cell phones and will respond to calls and text messages so the driver has no need to pick up the phone immediately. The driver, once off the road, can deal with the calls and messages later.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.