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Inattentive driving can earn you a $250 ticket in Federal Way

Driving inattentively in Federal Way is now an infraction worthy of a ticket.

On July 6, the city council passed an ordinance making inattentive driving an infraction. The ordinance requires drivers to operate their motor vehicles carefully or risk getting cited up to $250. The council passed the ordinance with a 5-2 vote. Council members Roger Freeman and Jack Dovey voted against the measure.

"To me, this is kind of vague," Dovey said. "I'm not even sure why we'd add this to our law."

Driving inattentively is defined as failing "to maintain a careful lookout for persons and property in the direction of travel," according to a June 9 memorandum from city attorney Pat Richardson to the city council. A definition of careful is not given in the ordinance.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of careful as follows: a) marked by attentive concern and solicitude; b) marked by wary caution or prudence; c) marked by painstaking effort to avoid errors or omissions.

Much of the council's discussion centered on rear-end collisions caused by drivers who are not paying attention. In many circumstances, it's evident that the collision was caused by someone who was not driving attentively. However, police are unable to cite the driver for that. Instead, the driver is often given a ticket for something such as following too closely, said council member Jim Ferrell, who is a King County prosecutor. In court, the offense is hard to prove, he said.

The ordinance is needed so that individuals that rear-end other drivers, for instance, don't escape responsibility and liability for their actions, Ferrell said. Assistant city attorney Amy Jo Pearsall added that the ordinance fills a gap, and in several situations, may be the only infraction that would appropriately fit the circumstances.

"What we want is a vehicle to be able to hold people accountable for running into people," Ferrell said.

Freeman finds the language of the code unsettling. A person can be inattentive without meaning to be, he said. He asked if a driver who caused a collision because he or she was unable to see clearly due to the setting or rising sun would be cited. Pearsall said such a driver would not likely be ticketed.

Freeman suggested the council amend the ordinance's wording to reflect that it is intended to apply to drivers who are distracted due to circumstances they control, such as talking on a cell phone, texting or fiddling with the radio. The rest of the council was not receptive to the suggestion.

"I think (the ordinance) is overly broad," Freeman said.

The inattentive driving law was first brought up in June. It was proposed by the city prosecutor, Pearsall said. The ordinance follows Gov. Chris Gregoire's May 27 "Drive Nice Day," which encouraged drivers to stop driving while they are distracted. According to the agenda bill that accompanied the proposed ordinance, distracted drivers contribute to killing approximately 700 people annually in Washington.

At least 16 other Washington cities have codes banning inattentive driving, according to Richardson's memo. None of those cities provides a definition of careful, according to the memo.

See a copy of the ordinance below:

Inattentive Driving

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