Hang up and drive. Or it will cost you.
That’s essentially the choice Washington drivers will have starting June 10 after the state Legislature made talking or texting on a cell phone while driving a primary offense.
“We will fully enforce this law from day one,” WSP Chief John Batiste said in a news release.
Under current law, drivers face a secondary violation for texting or talking on a cell phone while driving, meaning officers could only issue the $124 cell phone ticket if they had stopped a driver for speeding or some other violation.
“They would look right at our troopers with phones held to their ears,” Batiste said. “They knew that without another violation we couldn’t do anything.”
Spokane County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan agreed with Batiste that local drivers will see little flexibility come June 10.
“I think most people know it’s illegal. They just don’t obey,” Reagan said. After 2008, when the current law went into effect, “people obeyed just long enough to know that if they drove very carefully, they wouldn’t get stopped,” he added.
Reagan said he could recall at least two fatal crashes involving cell phones. In one, a young woman was talking to her boyfriend, who actually heard the crash on his end of the conversation. The other involved a woman who witnesses saw texting just before she drove through a curve and hit a tree.
With the seat belt law, which is also a primary offense, Washington drivers comply at one of the highest rates in the nation, Reagan said. “We are going to try to do the same thing with texting … and using a cell phone.”
Local WSP Trooper Troy Briggs said the law has been in place so he sees no reason to give drivers a grace period on tickets.
“I think people are starting to understand that it can be dangerous,” He said. “I think there should be enough information out there that people should know it’s a violation.”