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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Put the cellphone down’ law starts Sunday

UPDATED: Mon., July 17, 2017

OLYMPIA – Washington becomes one of the toughest states in the country Sunday for people who do anything behind the wheel with their cellphones.

Don’t check your email. Don’t like a friend’s Facebook post. Don’t post a picture to Snapchat. Don’t Google the Yelp rating of the restaurant you’re thinking of trying. Don’t play “Words with Friends” or “Candy Crush.” Don’t watch that YouTube video a co-worker told you about.

Or, as Gov. Jay Inslee put it during a media event Monday on the Capitol steps to remind Washington residents about the coming law: “Put the cellphone down.”

Sunday is when the new distracted driving law, what some are calling Driving Under the Influence of Electronics, takes effect. The only other state with a law as strict as Washington is Connecticut, traffic safety officials said.

Drivers who hold their phones to talk or text have been risking a ticket since 2007, when Washington became one of the first to issue tickets for that behavior. But phones became smarter in the last 10 years, allowing their users to do more things.

But because the state law only covered talking and texting, the other activities weren’t expressly banned, which provided a loophole for some drivers.

Cody Meyer, a 23-year-old flagger from Arlington, Washington, was hit and fatally injured at a construction site in 2015 by a driver looking at his phone, said his mother, Tina Meyer.

“The first thing the driver said was ‘I wasn’t texting,’ ” Tina Meyer said. Her son suffered massive injuries and died 151 days later.

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said troopers are seeing an increase in incidents involving drivers being distracted by their cellphones. In one accident, a driver was playing Pokemon Go at the time of the crash.

The new law should be “a positive step in keeping drivers focused on the road,” Batiste said.

The state is mounting a media blitz on the new law, urging drivers: “If you’re on the road, you’re off your phone.”

As originally written, the new law would have given drivers more than a year to get used to the tougher restrictions before it took effect. Inslee said he happily vetoed that section, allowing it to start Sunday like other new laws from the regular session of the 2017 Legislature.

But law enforcement is expected to give drivers some time to get familiar with the law. Troopers will write warnings for violators starting Sunday, Batiste said. They’ll shift to tickets after three to six months “depending on what we see out there on the roadways.”

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