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Illegal texting may mean a ticket

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

Washington has officially joined the handful of states that have enacted laws aimed at keeping drivers’ attention on the road — rather than on their cell phones.

Engrossed House Bill 1214 was signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire in May 2007. On Jan. 1, 2008, the bill went into effect. The legislation makes it illegal for drivers operating a motorized vehicle — even if it is stopped at a traffic light — to read, write and send text messages or e-mails.

Lawmakers and authorities cite the need to decrease distractions on the roadways as the reason for passing the bill. Texting while driving can lead to collisions and dangerous driving maneuvers, Washington State Patrol spokeswoman Kristine O’Shannon said.

“It takes two seconds for the brain to realize something is occurring; if you are texting, it takes longer,” O’Shannon said.

Across the nation, people are realizing that cell phone use does not mix well with operating a motor vehicle. Regulations against the operation of handheld cell phones while driving have been adopted in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Washington, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association Web site.

Washington was the first state to prohibit text messaging while operating a motor vehicle, and New Jersey quickly followed in November 2007, according to the same Web site.

Statistics on how many collisions in Washington and Federal Way are caused annually by motorists who text while driving are not kept by the state patrol or Federal Way police. However, both organizations realize any sort of distraction to motorists can result in dangerous driving patterns.

“It’s really hard to read a text message and drive at the same time,” O’Shannon said

Both law enforcement agencies will have patrols on the lookout for drivers violating the new law.

“It’s something an officer can detect and notice,” said Stacy Flores, Federal Way police spokeswoman.

Texting while driving is a secondary offense, which means one cannot be pulled over solely for this violation. But if a driver is breaking another law, such as speeding, changing lanes without a signal or swerving between lanes, while also text messaging, the driver can be hit with two citations: One for the driving infraction and another for texting. The latter could result in a $124 fine.

Motorists caught texting while driving in Federal Way will initially be given a break. Police will grant drivers a 30-day grace period in which they will not be expensed for their actions, Flores said. Instead, they will receive a warning, she said.

“Each person we pull over or we encounter, we will educate them about the law,” Flores said.

Washington State Patrol troopers may not be so gracious. Whether to cite drivers for their illegal cell phone use is up to each trooper’s discretion, O’Shannon said. Someone who is pulled over for a broken taillight and is discovered to be texting while driving may not face the same consequences as someone who is texting and also driving recklessly, she said.

If troopers conclude that text messaging could have contributed to the original violation, a $124 ticket will likely be tacked onto the total bill, she said.

“We will not hesitate to write a second citation under the texting law if that contributed to the first violation,” said Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, in a Dec. 26 statement.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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