Spokane police Officer Teresa Fuller was watching a four-way stop at Monroe Street and Queen Avenue recently when she noticed a car approaching.
“She blew right through that intersection at 40 mph with that cell phone up to her ear,” Fuller said. “We see it always.”
As of Sunday, Washington drivers had one month to either get a hands-free device or risk a $124 ticket. On July 1 a new law takes effect that will make it a secondary traffic infraction to drive while holding a cell phone to your ear.
A secondary offense is one in which officers can’t stop drivers based solely on the offense. Drivers must also violate some other law, such as speeding or improper lane change, to be stopped.
“The initial violation could technically be a taillight or headlight out,” Washington State Patrol Trooper Mark Baker said, “and you could get a ticket for being on a cell phone.”
Barbara Babic, spokeswoman for the Idaho Transportation Department, said drivers will not face the same restrictions in the “Famous Potatoes” state.
Idaho State Police Lt. Chris Schenck said that although Idaho drivers don’t have a similar law, they need to keep their attention on the road.
“We did have somebody the other day who was holding a cell phone in one hand and writing with the other hand while steering with her knees. That doesn’t fly,” he said. “We can’t stop somebody if we see them talking on a cell phone, but they still have to drive with due caution.”
Schenck said safe driving comes down to common sense, regardless of the rules.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “If people continue to crash because they are talking on cell phones, maybe our Legislature will have to look at that.”
Idaho officers do not keep track of drivers using phones during collisions. One reason is practical: Very few want to admit that’s what they were doing, Schenck said.
In Washington, troopers in 2006 started to track drivers using phones during collisions, Baker said. But he said it was too early to glean much from that data.
“We are trying to encourage people to purchase those hands-free devices. At least they will have both hands on the steering wheel and they will be less likely to be distracted,” Baker said. “Some people can talk on the phone and drive down the road. It makes it much harder to be a good defensive driver.
“But on the other hand, there are some great aspects of so many drivers with cell phones.”
He noted that the WSP gets hundreds of calls reporting aggressive driving and other problems. “Over 50 percent of the time, when they report a possible DUI they are right,” Baker said. “They really help us do our job.”
City work progresses
Commuters avoiding the Ash Street closure will get some relief today as crews take down the four-way stop at Monroe Street and Queen Avenue, said Ann Deasy, city streets spokeswoman. Queen had been used as a detour to get drivers around the closure of the intersection of Wall Street and Wellesley Avenue. That intersection opened Friday, she said.
However, a new obstruction will last through next Monday at Nevada Street and Beacon Avenue.
Crews will install water and sewer lines for a development on the east side of Nevada, Deasy said. As a result, they will restrict some lanes between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Idaho commuters beware
This evening, construction crews will close ramps to Interstate 90 at Exit 7, State Highway 41, in Post Falls so they can continue pavement grinding work, Babic said.
The ramps will be closed from 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“It’s all part of the improvement project on the westbound lanes,” Babic said. “Motorists should plan on using an alternate route.”
The closest alternatives are the Seltice Boulevard and Spokane Street exits, she said.