Monthly Archives: May 2010

Police and the hands-free cell phone law

The in basket: Duane, who didn’t provide his last name, said in an e-mail that he was reminded by a story about a woman killed while talking on her cell phone while driving that “a few weeks ago I passed a Kitsap County sheriff in uniform in a fully marked county sheriff car talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. 

“If our own county sheriffs aren’t following the laws they are supposed to enforce, how can he be expected to cite someone for the very thing he also does?” Duane asked. 

“This needs to be exposed in the media and we need much more coverage about the newest change to the cell phone law,” he said. “I still am having to avoid drivers who are talking or texting while driving on a regular basis.  And seeing a county sheriff doing so while driving really encouraged me to believe the law will be enforced!”

The out basket: If a cell phone user has somehow not learned of the toughening of the state law, making texting and holding a cell phone to one’s ear while driving a primary offense citable without any accompanying driving infraction, I doubt that mention here will reach that person. But consider it mentioned. It’s effective June 10.

Police are exempt from the law, as are ambulance drivers, tow truck operators, other emergency vehicles and the average citizen when reporting an emergency or crime.

Nonetheless, police departments can require compliance with the law by its officers as a matter of policy. As Kitsap Sun Crime and Courts reporter Josh Farley reported on his blog and in the paper in April, the State Patrol has done so, and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is considering it. 

But I’m sure there are exceptions that will cause complaints like Duane’s. For example, cell phone communications are more secure than radio communications, so will be preferable under certain circumstances.

The KCSO spokesman said the department patrol cars have been equipped with hands-free devices that are “crystal clear,” to encourage doing what the law requires of others.

I hope they’re that good. I’ve had routine problems sending and receiving calls on the two hands-free devices I’ve owned, whether reception-related or caused by my flawed understanding of the device. 

I’m going to experiment with using the speakerphone feature on my cell phone and just having it in my lap during conversations to see how that works as an alternative. If the phone isn’t held to your ear, and you’re not texting, you’re legal.

Using the shoulder to talk on one’s cell phone

The in basket: Lisa Rossi e-mails to say, “Several times while driving to Silverdale from Poulsbo (and back) I have seen a couple of cars pulled off to the side of the road not blocking traffic. The drivers were talking on the cell phone and shortly thereafter, police, either county or state patrol, pulled in behind them.

“The cell phone talker doesn’t have flashers on so they aren’t in distress. Why would an officer stop? Are the (drivers) illegally parked or stopped? Is it still illegal to talk on your cell phone in your car even if you are safely on the side of the road?”

The in basket: More than likely, the officers were making a courtesy stop to see if the driver was having trouble, but there are places where it would be illegal to use the shoulder for that purpose. And the State Patrol encourages use of a safer place than the shoulder.

“If a trooper sees a vehicle stopped along the shoulder,” says WSP information officer Krista Hedstrom, “they will stop (if not in route to another call) and check on the driver to make sure they are OK. Many times, drivers with disabled vehicles don’t turn their flashers on when they are stopped.  Sometimes they can’t because their battery is dead. 

 “There is nothing in (state law) that says you cannot stop along the side of the road to take a call,” Krista said. “Keeping this in mind, Highway 3 is a limited access highway and we (don’t like to see) drivers lined up on the side of the road talking on their cell.  We encourage drivers who must make a call to take the nearest exit and find a place where they are safely off the roadway. 

“It is my belief that stopping on the shoulder of Highway 3 where cars are passing you at 60-plus MPH is not the safest alternative. It also poses a huge hazard when attempting to pull back onto the roadway after the call is complete.   

“If a driver on the phone is contacted on the shoulder, more than likely that trooper will ask them to move to a safer location,” she said.

But if the driver has pulled over just to use his or her phone in one of those no-shoulder-parking zones, such as the one established by a sign on Highway 3 in Gorst for a few miles to the north, “a ticket could be issued, at the troopers discretion,” Krista said.

Jackson Park school zone illustrates enforcement problems

The in basket: Perhaps nothing perplexes the driving public like school zones and their speed limits. I often get e-mails decrying the wide variety of zones, which can be in effect during certain hours, “when children are present,” when lights mounted on the sign are flashing, or, rarely, 24/7, as in front of Bremerton High. 

Sometimes, it all befuddles even the police officers who enforce the zones, if two Road Warrior readers recall their experience correctly. 

Both got ticketed in the same school zone, the one in front of Jackson Park Elementary School on Austin Drive.

It is a “when children are present” zone. Present, for this purpose, means on the shoulder, sidewalk, in the street or crosswalk, or somewhere with quick access to those points, says Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police’s traffic division. In the schoolyard or inside the building doesn’t constitute being present under the law.

Corliss Johnson wrote in November 2007 that he was ticketed there, even though there was not a child in sight. 

“I would never think of putting a child in harm’s way,” he said, but the officer told him, “There are always children present.”

Then in May 2009, Bob Cole had the same misfortune. That officer told him school zone speed limits are in effect from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., period, Bob tells me.

That school zone is a problem for openers because it lacks the required signage where the school zone ends, theoretically making all of Austin Drive after one passes the school zone sign a 20 mph zone.

But if Corliss and Bob recall their conversations with the two police officers correctly, the citations were based on a faulty understanding of the law.

The out basket: I asked Lt. Fisher about the two assertions supposedly made by his troops.

He told me, “Enforcement for the school zone speed must be congruent with the method used to mark the school zone.

Children have to be present at any school zone posted ‘When Children Are Present’ for officers to write a speeding-in-school-zone citation.  If no children are present, then the officer should just write a speeding citation.”

Bob had the badge number of the officer who ticketed him. I asked Pete to find out if that officer  is of the belief that school zone speeds are in effect from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. regardless of what the signs say, or was of that belief in May 2009. Pete said he has had that talk, but it’s a personnel matter he can’t discuss further with me. “But I do appreciate you coming forward with the information,” he added.

I recall getting a complaint even before I began writing Road Warrior in 1996 about a school zone stop in front of South Kitsap High School, by a state trooper. I can’t recall the specifics, but I concluded at the time the citation wasn’t based on the law. 

I also recall sitting in on Bremerton Municipal Court after BPD ticketed dozens of drivers for doing more than 20 in what then was a school zone on Sheridan Road just uphill from Wheaton Way. It, too, was a “when children are present” zone, and many of the cited drivers said they didn’t see any children.

Judge Jim Docter admitted that to find in the driver’s favor was tantamount to calling the citing officer a liar, which he declined to do. He upheld most of the tickets. 

School zone tickets cannot be excused, or the fine reduced.

I can see why officers feel no obligation to point out the children that made the 20 mph limit effective. By the time they radio in the stop and the license number and await any crucial information, the children can be out of sight. They might even have gotten legal advice saying not to be that specific, I suppose. 

But it’s very likely to make a driver feel like he’s been had when he leaves convinced the ticket was unfairly issued. 

That’s why I love the “when flashing” school zones signs. 

They eliminate most of the uncertainty about when the speed limit drops to 20.

Pete said he will work with city public works to get the requisite “end of school zone” signs posted on Austin Drive, but in the meantime, the location of the school zone sign for those heading in the opposite direction would signify the end of the zone.

Saturday striping in Poulsbo raises question

The in basket: Cathy Friesen wonders why the Kitsap County road workers were painting center lines, which “I perceive as regular maintenance,” she said, on Saturday, May 8. 

“We ran across this on the Olhava Way in Poulsbo.  Are these workers receiving double time or overtime for doing this regular maintenance work on Saturday?  These roads were totally drivable and in no way in any kind of urgent or emergency attention,” she said.

The out basket: Jeff Shea, the county’s transportation engineer has the explanation.

 “Your reader did see county crews working in Poulsbo that Saturday,” he said. “Kitsap County contracts with the City of Poulsbo for striping services. Due to the ongoing demands of our own striping program for county-maintained roads we can’t provide striping services to others during the regular workday. “When we contracted with the city,” Jeff said, ” they understood that to provide the services we would need to do the work on weekends. The City of Poulsbo pays all costs, including overtime, materials, labor and equipment for the work done for them by county traffic maintenance crews. 

 “That being said,” he went on, ” there is another reason for weekend paving. Arterial roads generally have less traffic on weekends than they do during the week. Less traffic allows the striping operation to be completed more quickly, and in some instances can offset the additional labor costs associated with overtime. 

“Lower traffic volumes also reduce the chance of motorists driving through wet paint, which can create a host of problems on its own,” Jeff said. “Some county-maintained roads are striped on weekends, mostly in Silverdale.

 “It is a balancing act between costs, efficiency, and inconvenience for motorists. We work hard each year to ensure we utilize the resources we have effectively.”

Updating new Lake Flora roundabout

 

The in basket: I was reviewing old Road Warrior columns and came across one from last year that suggested another roundabout might be on the drawing boards, where Lake Flora and JM Dickenson roads intersect in South Kitsap.

Debbie Buchholz had asked about the Lake Flora work that was done last July, and the county said phase 2 of the work might include a roundabout.

The out basket: There will, indeed, be a roundabout built at the Lake Flora/JM Dickenson road intersection, beginning this fall or next spring. 

Dick Dadisman of Kitsap County Public Works says the new rural roundabout “will have a single lane similar to the roundabout on Bethel Road in Port Orchard.  (Though, the Port Orchard roundabout was designed and constructed as a two-lane roundabout, but striped for a single lane).  

“Major differences between a rural roundabout and urban roundabout ,” he said, “are rural roundabouts lack the pedestrian improvements you would typically find in an urban setting; the truck apron is wider to allow larger trucks to negotiate the roundabout; and the approach legs are typically longer to allow sufficient distance for higher speed vehicles to safely decelerate as they approach the roundabout.” 

The roundabout will be just south of the intersection it will replace.

I asked if there are any other roundabouts planned on the county’s roads and Dick said, “Kitsap County has one other roundabout under consideration.  This one is located at the Newberry Hill/Silverdale Way/Chico Way intersection with construction planned for the summer of 2012.” 

Since he replied, County Commissioner Josh Brown made a pitch for a roundabout at Holly Road and Seabeck Highway in Central Kitsap, so that may be added to the list in the future.

Exempt vehicles also exempt from 7-year plate replacement

The in basket: Robert Irish tells me that government vehicles, so-called exempted vehicles, also are exempted from having their license plates replaced every seven years like the rest of us. He apparently works for a government entity and said it has a vehicle with a plate issued in 1963. He also mentioned that some of the Kitsap Transit worker/driver buses have barely legible plates.

The out basket: It’s true, says Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing.

“State law does not require the replacement of exempt license plates (used on government-owned vehicles) every seven years. 

“Exempt license plates are handled differently that regular license plates,” he said. “They do not require annual renewals and can be transferred from vehicle to vehicle within the fleet of the agency to which the plates were originally issued. 

“Because of the way these types of plates are handled in our motor vehicle database and by our other computer systems, it would have required additional computer system changes to make them subject to our seven-year plate replacement cycle.

 “That said,” Brad added, “public agencies are not exempt from another state law that requires the license plates on their vehicles to be replaced when they become damaged or illegible. They should be replacing license plates that become difficult to read.”

Coincidentally, perhaps, Robert says he’s seen new plates on some of the government vehicles that had faded ones since he posed his question to the Road Warrior.

Business info signs on Highway 16 lying flat

 

The in basket: Bob Cairns of Olalla e-mailed to ask, “Do merchants pay to have their businesses advertised, as an example, (on) Highway 16 signs carrying the names of multiple restaurants or service stations etc.? Or does the county/state provide this signage as a service to the community?”

And John Moore asked on April 28 about three of those signs that were lying flat on Highway 16, one near the Tremont interchange  in South Kitsap and two in the Gig Harbor area.

The out basket: The businesses named on the Food-Gas-Lodging signs, as I call them (the state calls them Motorist Information Signs), do pay for having their establishment listed on those signs. 

Inclusion on the signs is available to tourist activities, camping, recreation and 24-hour pharmacies as well as eateries, lodging and gas stations. The business must be open to the public, so private clubs aren’t eligible. 

The annual cost varies with the amount of traffic on the highway. Freeways with more than 80,000 vehicles per day require a payment of $910 each year to be mentioned in both directions, $455 for just one. Four-lane highways with fewer than 80,000 cars per day charge $683 and $342. Two-lane highway rates are $364 and $182. There are no 80,000-plus VPD highways in Kitsap County.

The state Department of Transportation collects the money and puts up the signs. 

No more than four such signs, with not more than six businesses each, are permitted at any interchange or intersection. There is a waiting list where demand exceeds that.

Lots of information about what business are eligible and limitations on what can be put on the signs can be found online at www.wsdot.wa.gov/Operations/Traffic/Signs/faq.htm.

Gerald Nelson, long-time head of the Motorist Information Signs program, says two of the three flattened signs on Highway 16 are testimony to the force of the spring windstorms in our area. They got a 77 mph wind gust in Tumwater, he said, but didn’t have a reading from where the two signs blew over.

The fallen sign near Wollochet was hit by a vehicle, he said.

The other two are to be replaced Wednesday (May 12), he said, and the third also will be put back up. They will be put on steel posts in place of the wood ones, he said, in keeping with a state program to replace all wooden highway sign posts with breakaway steel ones. They minimize damage and injury to motorists when hit.

Is it legal to drive wearing open-toed shoes?

 

The in basket: Jimmy James of Kingston e-mailed to say, “Someone warned me that it is illegal to drive with open-toed shoes. Is this true? How about other footwear such as sandals, crocks, ski boots etc? ”

The out basket: I’d never heard of such a law, but have heard off and on for years that it might be illegal to drive barefoot. The idea seemed to be that a sharp pebble might lodge in the brake pedal or on one’s foot, causing a driver enough unexpected pain to stop braking long enough to have a crash. That might be even more likely to occur with flip-flops, sandals and even open-toes shoes that could trap something sharp between the foot and the shoe.

But Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the State Patrol office in Bremerton says there is no such law, in either case. “There is no law to specify what type of footwear must be worn while driving, or even if any must be worn,” she said.

When do accidents make HOV lanes available?

 

The in basket: Scott Menard of Bremerton  says he’s  seen instances when HOV lanes were temporarily opened to all vehicles because of an accident or road work blocking lanes on the freeway. 

One day in March, he said, he was on I-5 and came to a sign saying there was an accident ahead, but there was no mention of the HOV lanes, where traffic still was flowing. What is required to use the HOV lanes in such a case, he asked.

The out basket: HOV lanes are meant to make it desirable to share vehicles rather than driving alone, by making it easier to get around congestion. Most accidents create congestion, so the lanes would be opened to single-occupant vehicles rarely because of a crash.

Unless a sign says the HOV lane is open to all vehicles, or you are directed there by an officer, a flagger or a flashing yellow arrow sign, the usual rules apply and you risk a ticket by being alone in your car in an HOV lane.

Short white lines on roads mystify reader

 

The in basket: Lois Fetters asks about something she says has been bugging her for some time. 

She first noticed three white lines on East Center Street near Manchester, about a foot long, one on each shoulder and one on the center line.

“I first noticed them at the bottom of the hill at the stop

sign so I thought they were a cheap stop line kind of thing,” she said. “Then later I noticed two more sets toward the top of the hill. 

“They are not located by fire hydrants. They are not located where you would put a crosswalk. They are not located where the house numbers change blocks.

“I know this can’t be it, but they are located by houses for

sale or land for sale on Center but this does not hold true on other roads that have the lines. Quite the mystery. 

“Then this morning I was driving on Beach Drive from the Annapolis foot ferry dock towards

Manchester,” she said, “and I saw them every 20 or 30 feet for quite a stretch. They seemed to be almost one per house. Maybe…sewer lines. But then I

saw them where there was undeveloped land on both sides of Woods Road.

“So….I give up.  Please help.”

The out basket: Lois certainly thought of a wealth of possibilities, but she missed the correct one, though her final guess was close. 

The lines mark the location of culverts that cross beneath the pavement, so county crews can find them quickly during storm events and for maintenance, says Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works.