Tag Archives: cell phone

Cell phone tickets are written, but texting is hard to prove

The in basket: Alison Loris says that despite the emphasis patrol local law enforcement announced and conducted last year to stop and ticket drivers on their cell phones or texting, “it doesn’t look like anything has changed. The frequency of drivers texting or chattering into their phones seems to be getting worse, not better.”

“I drive to and from South Bainbridge frequently now,” she said, “and that is scary – a large percentage of the drivers around seem to be young women in expensive cars too busy texting to drive – alternately lagging and ferociously tailgating.”

“Just out of curiosity, I would like to know how many citations were issued in Kitsap in 2014 for phoning or texting while driving.”

The out basket: I got figures for cell phone citations from Washington State Patrol here and Kitsap County District Court.

Trooper Russ Winger, WSP spokesman here, said there were 380 citations for cell phone use or texting at the wheel issued in their seven-county district, which includes Kitsap and Mason counties, in 2014.

Maury Baker, administrator of the Kitsap County District Courts, said there were 493 such tickets processed in those courts in 2014, down from 547 in 2013. Many of them would have been written by WSP on Kitsap roads. Other jurisdictions wrote the others.

Trooper Winger added, “A common complaint of troopers and officers in general is the fact that it is hard to see or prove that a driver was texting. There are many ‘exempt’ things one can legally do while driving. Looking up a phone number or address is legal. Using, setting or simply looking at a GPS is legal. Simply looking up information on a smart phone such as email or even accessing the internet is not illegal under the law. I even saw one traffic stop where the driver claimed he was checking his stock trades!

“These are common excuses drivers give officers when stopped for texting. All of these things are distracting a driver’s attention away from the road, yet perfectly legal. When given the opportunity drivers seem to try and get away with as much as possible.

“The law as written seems ineffectual and problematic to many officers that enforce the law. The strongest answer to assist officers with enforcement is to simply make the use of all electronic devices illegal when driving,” he said.

How to catch illegal cell phone use by drivers

The in basket: Alison Loris wants to know more about the results of the publicized emphasis patrol in April to find and cite drivers texting or talking on their cell phones with the phones to their ear, both of which are against the law.

“I see more and more people ignoring the road while their attention is all for the phone,” she said.

The out basket: I, too, was curious about the emphasis patrol, and what tactics the officers used to spot texters and those on their cell phone that they wouldn’t in their every day jobs.

As reporter Andrew Binion noted in a Sun column shortly after the results were announced, it remains common to see people with their cell phone to their ear while driving, even after the emphasis.

I read a magazine article recently that equated use of one’s cell phone for texting with addictions like to drugs, alcohol and gambling, an irresistible impulse when the phone pings an alert of a new message incoming. Being behind the wheel doesn’t overcome that impulse, the article said.

I asked several of our police agencies what they did differently during the emphasis patrol and it appears to be mostly giving that offense a higher priority than otherwise. They weren’t making stops exclusively for cell phone infractions. They were extra officers on the road, working overtime.

They wrote 145 tickets for illegal cell phone use and 13 for texting while driving, a measure of the greater difficulty in seeing whether a driver is texting or just looking down.

They also cited 53 speeders, 22 for not having insurance, 12 for equipment violations, two negligent drivers, 40 for seat belt infractions, and one for not having a child properly restrained. They also just warned six for seat belt violations and two for child restraint problems.

Ten drivers with their license suspended and five without their license with them were cited.

Marsha Masters, Kitsap County Traffic Safety Manager, who compiled the figures, said a previous emphasis, a year or so ago, deployed officers in the High School Road roundabout on Bainbridge Island, where drivers had to slow down. Those using a cell phone improperly were stopped by other officers waiting nearby, alerted by those on foot in the roundabout

But that wasn’t done this time, she said.

State Trooper Russ Winger said troopers did not use any special method of detecting violations. “They simply patrolled and stopped violations as they observed them.

“We do, sometimes, set up in a stationary location where it is easier to observe violations such as cell phone usage and texting. The whole idea of the emphasis is to put extra officers on the road that are looking for these type of violations for a concentrated period and not subject to being called away for calls for service, collisions etc .

“We are not interested in using  ‘sneaky’ tactics to detect violations. Our officer are out there, in uniform and driving our regular patrol vehicles, which include unmarked patrol vehicles. I can tell you this for sure, there is no shortage of motorists using cell phones, texting while driving and doing various other distracted driving actions.”

Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department said of deputies who took part in the emphasis, all replied that they participated in the emphasis patrols using just personal observations of drivers violating the (cell phone and texting laws).

“Nothing special, out of the ordinary or using some new, sophisticated technology…  just the standard Mark 1, Mod 0 deputy sheriff eyeball,” he quipped.

Deputy Chief Bob Wright of Poulsbo police said, “We didn’t use any super special thing during the emphasis. Some of the officers used plain unmarked patrol cars while one of the officers used a fully marked unit while they patrolled the city looking for people using cellular phones.”

And Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police said  We used two main tactics…. One, officers would patrol as normal and stop vehicles as they observed violations. Two, we also placed spotters at intersections to observe the violations.  The spotter(s) would then call out the violation to officers standing by in patrol vehicles.”

Checking for texting after a fender bender

The in basket: Joan Richards writes about seeing a fender bender in North Kitsap that raised a question in her mind.

“I was driving north on Highway , heading home,” she said. “As I was passing Hilltop, a young lady, whose car had hit the one in front of her, was talking to a WSP officer, waving her cell phone around. My husband commented that she was probably texting while driving and not paying attention.

“My question,” Joan said, “is that if someone is involved in an accident, does the investigating officer have the right to check the person’s cellphone for any usage around the time of the accident, or does there have to be a witness stating that they saw that person on the cellphone at the time of the accident?

“I hope so,” she added. “Living on this highway, I have seen way too many accidents and probably a great number of them are due to distracted drivers!!”

The out basket: Trooper Mark Hodgson of the Bremerton office says they can and may ask to see a cell phone in such a situation, but can’t require it.

That would take a court order, a step they would take following a serious injury or fatal accident, but not usually in investigating a fender bender. One or more witnesses to a driver’s use of a cell phone or appearance of having been texting at or before the accident would be more likely to result in an additional citation for those offenses, he said. State law prohibits having a cell phone to your ear or texting while driving.

Cell phones and texting at ferry terminals

The in basket: Back in October, a commenter on the Road Warrior blog had this to ask after reading a column that said the cell phone and texting laws that had made violations a primary offense a few months earlier didn’t apply on private property:

“How about enforcing cell phone use on the docks while loading the boats?” asked the commenter, identified only as Red.

“People complain that the boats aren’t leaving on time…Well, when someone is on the phone and not paying attention, this slows down the loading process…and it is my understanding the docks are public property not private.”

As I mulled over his question, it occurred to me that the answer might vary depending on whether the car was moving, momentarily still during loading or had its motor turned off while its driver waited for a ferry. Further, the same distinctions would apply in the shoulder holding areas outside the terminals at Bainbridge Island, Kingston and elsewhere.

I asked how the law would be applied in such situations.

The out basket: Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the State Patrol office here says that despite wording in both laws specifying that they apply to “moving motor vehicles,” WSP’s position is that being stopped momentarily, such as at a stop light, does not allow a driver to text or hold a cell phone to the ear briefly.

And the same philosophy would apply in a ferry holding area. “When stopped in a holding lane at the ferry you are still technically on a state route and can be issued a ticket for use of a cell phone.  However, I would be surprised if I heard of troopers ticketing drivers while in a holding lane. This applies to those areas inside and outside of the terminal. This is really where common sense needs to come into play.”

I took it one step further and asked if texting while actually on the ferry crossing the Sound might get a person cited and she said simply, “No. That would be ridiculous.”

Lastly, I asked if WSP would seek amendment of the two laws to remove the “moving” wording and she said the agency has no such intention.

How often are cell phone/texting tickets written?

The in basket: Mike Wray writes, “My wife and I were very dutiful about getting a hands-off device for our cells while driving, commonly called a Bluetooth, so we could comply with the new law that went into effect last June.  However, we still see multitudes of drivers of all ages who either choose to ignore, or are ignorant of the law.

“Can you address the efforts of local law enforcement to curb this or at least a few unannounced emphasis patrols?   We can’t be the only folks who see the huge number of drivers who continue to use their hand-held devices to call or text.”

The out basket: My wife regularly reports to me when we pass a driver with a cell phone to his or her ear, so I’m sure the law is routinely violated. I don’t see if myself very often, as looking to my right for more than a glance while I’m at the wheel is chancy.

I asked the three largest law enforcement offices here for some figures for cell phone and texting citations since they became primary offenses that can be ticketed without an underlying infraction last June.

Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office says KCSO’s deputies have issued 196 tickets since June 1 for having a cell phone to the driver’s ear, and six for texting.

Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police traffic division says his officers have written 144 cell phone citations and two texting tickets, nearly all during two emphasis patrols in June and July.

And Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton State Patrol office, says its troopers have stopped 296 drivers for cell phone use (132 tickets issued) and 14 for texting (6 tickets issued).  “The decision to issue a ticket is entirely at the officers discretion,” she added.

None of the three said so, but I must assume the comparatively few texting citations, despite the greater danger texting represents, can be attributed to the greater ability to carry it on out of sight of a passing car, compared to having a cell phone at one’s ear.

Scott Wilson adds, “Sheriff’s deputies are well aware of what’s occurring out there with certain drivers who seem to disregard these more recent laws, in total.  Patrol / traffic deputies can’t be everywhere.

“A number of drivers will ‘get away with it’ probably many, many times.  The one time they will wish that they had paid attention will be when they are the ‘at fault’ driver in a motor vehicle collision due to their failure to comply with the law.”

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The cell phone law and bicyclists

The in basket: Kathryn Simpson wonders about the applicability to bicyclists of the ban on cell phone and texting while driving.

“Several times in the past couple of weeks I have seen kids riding their bikes on public roads and talking on their cell phone or texting,” she said. “Can they be cited? Does it make a difference if they don’t have a driver’s license?

“What about me, as a licensed driver, if I’m riding my bicycle on a public road and talking or texting, can I be cited?”

The out basket: No, the two laws that forbid holding a cell phone to one’s ear or texting while at the wheel specify that they apply to moving motor vehicles. So use of a cell phone while bicycling, skateboarding, or otherwise on a rider-powered vehicle is not prohibited.

Despite the “moving” specification in those laws, Trooper Krista Hedstrom, spokesman for the State Patrol  detachment in Bremerton says, it does not allow use of cell phones or texting while stopped in the roadway briefly, such as at a traffic signal.

Transit drivers and the hands-free law

The in basket: A reader who wants to be known only as Lonnie for purposes of this column says he saw a Kitsap Transit bus driver flip open his cell phone and begin talking as he drove the bus at 11th and Perry in East Bremerton one recent morning.

He wonders if bus drivers are among those exempted from the hands-free device law, along with police, emergency personnel, tow truck drivers and anyone reporting a crime or an emergency. He’d find that curious, he said, “especially with such a huge vehicle.”

The out basket: Actually Kitsap Transit bus drivers are more limited in their use of cell phones than any of us, as a company policy forbids all use of a cell phone while the bus is in motion, says John Clauson, Transit’s service development manager.

That policy, which could stand a little editing to settle on the correct pronouns,  reads, “”Operator’s personal cellular phones are not to be used while aboard a coach to communicate with Dispatch or any other parties. Personal cell phone use is only allowed at terminals or transfer centers when your coach is parked, while they are off the bus and only if its use doesn’t interfere with their job duties. If it is necessary to call Dispatch while you are in service either because you are in a “dead radio zone” or because your radio is not working, the operator must stop their coach and secure it before using their cellular phone.

The driver of the bus Lonnie saw will be pointedly reminded of that policy, John said.

By coincidence, the hands-free law was amended this year to address a transit issue, but not to add transit drivers to the list of those exempted from the cell-phone prohibition.

Instead, it allows a bus driver to hold a receiver to his or her ear if it’s parts of a device permanently affixed to the vehicle. John says that describes the radio units in many of Kitsap Transit’s buses, which have telephone-like handsets wired to the radio. Because the radio system itself is wireless, even though the handset isn’t, transit officials statewide worried when the hands-free law made it a primary offense that it would prevent drivers from using those radios. So they got the law changed.

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.

Police are exempt from hands-free cell phone law

 

The in basket: A reader who doesn’t want to have his name used out of fear the authorities will get mad at him says he has noticed numerous law enforcement officers using their cell phones held to their ears as they drive. He wonders if they are exempt from the hands-free law.

The out basket: Yes, say Bremerton police Lt. Pete Fisher and Trooper Krista Hedstrom. The law (RCW 46.61.667) specifically exempts emergency vehicles, which, of course, includes police cars. Police use of in-car communications such as emergency radios predates cell phones by decades, anyway.

The law also specifically exempts tow truck drivers en route to a disabled vehicle, drivers wearing hearing aids and everyone else if they are reporting illegal activity, summoning medical or other emergency help or preventing injury to a person or property.
Pete said BPD officers are directed in department policies to use due care and caution in operating their cars. 

Krista said, “Chief Batiste has been clear that he wants troopers to set a good example, by limiting their use of cell phones while driving. 

“The WSP has provided hands-free devices to any employee who is assigned

a State Patrol cell phone and who requests it,” she added. 

“With that being said, there are probably more times than the public

realizes when a cell phone is an appropriate tool for the responding

trooper or supervisor,” she said.

“Bomb threats come immediately to mind, but there are other situations where the information shouldn’t go over a system

that can be monitored by anyone with a scanner.  

“Citizens are allowed to use the cell phone to report emergencies –  just as a trooper might use a

cell phone to coordinate the response.”