Is Cell Phone Law Effective — or a Phony?January 6th, 2009 by josh farley
Since the state slapped a $124 fine on driving while talking on a cell phone, have you noticed less drivers yakking away?
I sure haven’t.
The law, which went into effect last July as a secondary offense — meaning cops need another reason to pull you over before writing you the cell phone ticket — has been enforced, according to an article in the Tacoma News Tribune. The Washington State Patrol handed out 798 tickets and 1,464 warnings statewide under the new law through Dec. 15, according to TNT reporter Ian Demsky.
That doesn’t seem to be stopping drivers, however. A poll of TNT’s online readers asking if the law was effective had the yes votes at 25 and the no’s at 363. Clearly, the no votes have it.
What about in Kitsap and North Mason?
While you ponder that question, consider the mindset of Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington.
I interviewed him last week about the continuing traffic tragedies our county has seen each year. But he also had some interesting things to say about the cell phone law — and how phony it is.
Hallenbeck said hands-free devices — allowed under the law — are just as distracting as holding the phone up to your ear. Your brain is still working through a conversation, while driving on a road.
There are other activities while driving that can be hazardous — eating or changing the radio station, for example — but they’re distracting in less potentially harmful ways. Here’s how, he says:
“You choose when to change the radio dial. You choose when to eat,” he said.
Drivers are likely to pick times not-so-hairy to change the radio, for instance.
He also points out a big difference between talking to a person in a car and talking to a person on a cell phone. The person in the car, he notes, has “situational awareness.”
For example, if you’re taking a corner or changing lanes, your passenger will generally stop talking so you can finish the job. Some do this more than others, but when he explained the concept, I thought of all the people that ride around with me, and — perhaps it says something about my driving habits — they usually shut up during my driving decision making.