On the first day he could give a driver a ticket for doing nothing other than talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel, Trooper Steve Robley did just that, including one seven minutes after he clocked in.
And guess what? There were no warnings given Thursday, only $124 tickets.
Robley, an 11-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol, said he saw fewer drivers with phones held to their ears than usual, a trend repeated throughout Washington, according to WSP spokesman Bob Calkins.
“Everybody has their hands (on the steering wheel) at 10 and 2 today,” Robley said.
Well, not everybody.
Robley gave out two tickets shortly after his shift began at 8 a.m., and two more when he guided two Columbian staffers during a midafternoon patrol.
Drivers received no grace period to adjust to a law that was two years in the making. Until Thursday, the talking-texting violation had been a secondary offense, meaning drivers could only be cited when they were stopped for something else.
On Thursday evening, the patrol was not sure how many tickets troopers issued in Clark County for talking and texting.
Robley hypothesized rainy roadways and the strengthened law had drivers on their best behavior, but said he suspects bad habits will pick up after some time passes. “We’re giving tickets on day one,” Robley said.
As he passed cars, he tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, peering through the window to see if a driver was simply resting her head against her hand — or, against a cell phone.
Sitting at a red light at the intersection of state Highway 500 and Northeast St. Johns Road, he flipped on the lights of his white, unmarked Dodge Charger and pulled over a woman in a small four-door Chevy.
“She was going across 500, talking on the cell phone,” he said as he put on his hat, stepped out into the rain and approached the woman.
In addition to the cell phone violation, the woman was cited for driving with out-of-date tags.
“She had it up to her ear talking and didn’t deny it,” Robley said after returning to his car. “I told her today it became a primary violation and I could pull her over just for talking on her cell phone. She said, ‘That’s just my luck.’”
When Robley climbed back into his car, he provided drivers an example of how it’s supposed to be done: “Now, before we take off, I’ve got, like, three text messages,” he said.
Robley, primarily, drives up and down state Highway 500, covering ground between Interstate 5 and Interstate 205. He works four days a week, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
He said he almost always has a container of pink Bubble Tape inside the Charger’s cup holder, adding that he’s nervous about what drivers might say if he were to sidle up to a car window with the gum’s powder on his mouth.
Minutes later, he dabbed his lips with his hand before approaching the driver of a white utility van.
“He was aware of the law; he didn’t know it took effect today as a primary offense,” Robley said. “He knew it (was against the law) and he still had it up to his ear. “
The revised law comes with exceptions for people with hearing aids, making a 911 call or setting a cell phone to speaker and holding it in front of the mouth.
Robley said in the past when he saw drivers on the phone, he would roll down a window and gesture the closing of a phone.
“They’d just hang up, drop their phone,” he said, laughing.
The rules, now, have changed.
Robley and other troopers were commissioned to give tickets at their discretion. They were pleased to find that drivers, save for a few, got that message and adjusted accordingly.
“We would much rather have people comply voluntarily than have to give tickets,” said Steve Schatzel, a state patrol spokesman.