Is Cell Phone Law Effective — or a Phony?

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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.

5 thoughts on “Is Cell Phone Law Effective — or a Phony?

  1. Passengers shutting up during the driver’s driving decision maneuvers makes sense.
    I once rode with a friend while he practiced touch and goes at Kitsap Airport.
    I was almost speechless and he couldn’t stop chattering during his rough touches and bumpy goes.

  2. We didn’t need the law to begin with. If a driver was not obeying traffic laws, then a police officer could cite that person for inattentive driving. Why invent a new law? I have seen people talking on a cell phone and driving too slow, but so do old people. If you want to talk about distractions, what about the ninja cars with loud exhaust and radios thumping everyone within 50 yards of the car?

    I would rather have the police hunting drunks and getting them off the road. And reporting drunks is a very good use of the cell phone…I report every drunk I see and I encourage others to do the same.

  3. Prior to the law, I used my bluetooth because it makes sense. I’m a real estate agent and spend most of my workday in the car.

    Anyone of my clients, when they hear, “I’m in the car and need to call you back” respect my judgment; however, if I am pulled over on the side of the road, I could be a road hazard to an approaching vehicle. (Try this on Sedgick Rd btw)

    The bluetooth battery only lasts a few hours before it needs to be recharged. I purchased a new (expensive – $150) bluetooth right before the law came into effect and it was horrible- no one can hear me and yet it was too loud on my end.

    Hallenbeck is right that the bluetooth is just as distracting as holding a phone to your ear (and the new one was MORE distracting!) but the “you choose” argument falls on its face. I don’t talk on the phone during hard rain- but I do listen to the radio. I don’t talk on the phone when the stop lights are out, etc.

    Driving recklessly or inattentive is already wrong. The law is just a “we’re doing something” law. If we really wanted to get rid of distractions we would outlaw:
    *bees flying into my car
    *kids being in the car
    *smoking at all in the car
    *eating or drinking
    *listening to books on tape
    It’s a silly law to make it look like we’re doing something.

  4. The cell phone law is a joke, if anything it has gotten worse, yes to all you mini van soccer moms. Silverdale is the worst……

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