Tag Archives: texting

Texting citations happen, but just scratch the surface

The in basket: Mathew Niblack e-mailed to say, “ This morning, between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m., I was walking  down Mile Hill Drive in Port Orchard, from McDonalds to California Avenue and I saw at least 20-25 people driving  and texting/talking on their cell phones.

“Is anything being done to stop this? I was walking against  the traffic and several times there were vehicles driving  towards me crossing the fog line. Is someone going to have  to hurt/killed before anything is done? There does not seem  to be any enforcement

of the law.”

The out basket: Matthew had sent his observation and question to the county sheriff’s office in late January, so they had a ready-made response for use in the Road Warrior column when he repeated them in his e-mail to me.

They said he was “absolutely correct,” and said any driver seen by an officer texting or holding a cell phone to his ear while driving can be cited under state law with a fine of $136.

“The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is acutely aware of these situations as you described… they occur all day, every day, throughout the  county on both city and county roadways and state highways,” their reply to Mathew read

‘For every stretch of roadway such as Mile Hill Drive, there are several dozens of similar roadways with the same violations taking place.  Deputies on patrol observe these actions frequently.  When we do, we try to take  proactive action when  possible.

“Is there a problem?  Yes.

“There are tens of hundreds more drivers who are conducting themselves like this than there  are available law enforcement officers to enforce motor vehicle code statutes.

“Do we conduct proactive patrols to specifically target distracted drivers? Yes, but not  on a frequent basis, as our personnel manning situation is not optimum.

“The  generally accepted ‘rule’ within law enforcement is for an agency to have two officers in its department for every 1,000 persons in the population.

“For the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office that would equate to having 340-plus deputies  on the department’s roster with a population of more than 170,600 in the unincorporated areas of Kitsap County.

“We can only ‘dream’ of having these many deputies for patrol and investigations assignments, which would include traffic safety  enforcement.

“The sheriff’s office currently has 113 total commissioned personnel (which includes the sheriff himself).  Currently our ratio of deputies to population stands at .66 of one officer per 1,000 persons in the population. You can readily see the

challenge!

“You asked, “Is someone going to have to be hurt / killed before anything is  done?  There does not seem to be any enforcement of the  law.”

“(In) 2015, sheriff’s deputies wrote 137 traffic infractions for distracted driving (cell phone use/texting). That’s not a lot given the number of violations that take place every day.  We could do better, but our deputies  typically are handling 9-1-1 response calls and are engaged  in responding from one call to the next without a whole lot of opportunity to hunt for distracted drivers.

“What are we doing about this?

“Now that the county is somewhat ‘officially’ clear of the recession, we have been  authorized by the county commissioners to begin recruiting (again) to fill the vacancies.

“Prior to the recession the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office  manning was at 128 commissioned personnel.  We’re slowly working at reducing the personnel shortfall, but  we can’t do it all in one year, or even in two or three  years.  It’s a gradual process.

It takes time and lots of funding to recruit, hire, train  and employ an entry-level sheriff’s deputy. Transfer  officers from other agencies don’t cost quite as much as they’ve already graduated from the six-month basic law  enforcement training academy, but

there is still a cost in funding and time.

“And… distracted driving is only one of a significant number of traffic safety issues that we  are tasked to enforce. Our most frequent complaint:  neighborhood speeding.

“The most serious need for traffic safety emphasis:  impaired driving enforcement. Why? Statistically, more serious injury and fatality collisions occur as a result of impaired driving than for any other driver action.”

Mathew thanked the office for the response and said, “I hope distracted drivers will be caught on Mile Hill soon.”

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.”

.

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.