The in basket: An anonymous e-mailer says, “During a traffic stop, I was asked to show my insurance card. Since I was driving my girlfriends car, I could not find it at first. I did find it (but) it had expired in May.
“The Kitsap County sheriffs deputy informed me that it would be a $550 ticket for not having insurance.
“I then got on my smart phone to contact my girl friend about the insurance card and she informed me that the card was in her purse. The officer informed me that I needed to shut off my phone, so I did.
“I wanted my girl friend to take a picture of the card and send it to my phone but the officer would not let me.
“My question is could I have used a photo of the insurance card to use as proof that the car had insurance?”
When I sent in his question, I also asked what reasons a deputy might have for requiring a driver to turn off his cell phone; whether it was a matter of office safety, for example.
The out basket: Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap sheriff’s office, says, “Washington State allows for operators of motor vehicles to provide proof of vehicle liability insurance using the display of electronic images on portable electronic devices, such as smart phones, tablets, iPads, etc.
“So, the short answer is… yes, the originator of the e-mail should have been allowed to provide proof of vehicle liability insurance using his smartphone.”
RCW 46.30.030 covers it, he said. That statute says, in part, “The card required by this section may be provided in either paper or electronic format. Acceptable electronic formats include the display of electronic images on a cellular phone or any other type of portable electronic device.”
Scott wouldn’t address why the deputy in this case wanted the driver’s smart phone turned off, without talking with the officer, whose identity he didn’t know. “Officer (and driver) safety always is paramount in these situations,” he said. “The reason the deputy asked the driver to disconnect his phone call was a decision, at that particular moment, made by the deputy with that in mind.
“Over the years, and during countless vehicle traffic stops, sheriff’s deputies (and police officers and WSP troopers) have encountered all manner of driver interactions and responses involving portable electronic devices.
“Here are just a handful of experiences (there have been many more):
– Officer attempts to stop a vehicle but the driver is oblivious as he / she is so engrossed with their cell phone… talking, texting, etc.
– Officer conducts a vehicle traffic stop and approaches the car and driver. Driver is talking on cell phone and purposefully ignores the officer’s presence, even after several attempts by the officer to gain the driver’s cooperation. Stalling tactic.
– Officer stops a vehicle and approaches car, introduces himself / herself, and explains the reason for the traffic stop. Driver produces required documentation then immediately calls their attorney. At some point the driver ‘demands’ that the officer speak with the attorney (on the driver’s cell phone) before the driver will do anything further (like accept the ticket).
– Officer conducts vehicle traffic stop and initiates standard procedures. At some point the driver contacts 9-1-1, trying to argue with the radio dispatcher about the validity of the stop, or the fact that the driver doesn’t believe that that officer is ‘real,’ or they want to speak with the on-duty sergeant, etc. This usually is another stalling tactic.
“In many instances, the driver of a vehicle does have insurance, they just forgot to have the insurance card with them or in the vehicle.
“A driver issued a notice of infraction (for not having insurance) who, in fact, does have valid insurance in effect at the time of the stop, may go to Kitsap County District Court to contest the NOI, or offer a defense in mitigation. With proof that valid vehicle liability insurance was in effect at the time of the stop, the court may reduce the monetary penalty, or possibly dismiss the NOI altogether.
“Best advice: if you are using a vehicle that belongs to someone else… make sure that you have the vehicle registration certificate and a valid vehicle liability insurance card to preclude a situation as presented in this scenario.”