Tag Archives: hands-free

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.

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.”

Cell phones and the hearing impaired

The in basket: As the July 1 deadline for enforcing the hands-free cell phone law approached last summer, Jerry Darnall of Kingston wondered about how his particular situation would be addressed. 

He is hearing-impaired, but doesn’t always wear his hearing aid while driving because it gets uncomfortable after a while and, more to the point, his “specially adjusted high-volume hand-held cell phone” produces painful feedback when he has his hearing aid in. He must remove it to use that phone.

But, he said, the wording of the law appears to exempt only those wearing hearing aids, “although I thought the intent by the Legislature was to exempt all ‘hearing impaired’ persons, not just those wearing hearing aids at that time.

“How much leeway is the WSP allowing for hearing-impaired cell phone users under the new law?” he asked. “What will I need to provide the officer as proof of disability if stopped for this infraction? Is the WSP/DOL going to provide some kind of sticker for the rear of my vehicles or license plate that shows hearing impairment?”

While I was seeking those answers from State Patrol spokeswoman Krista Hedstrom in Bremerton, I asked for an update on how enforcement has been going in the real world of the state highways here.

The out basket: Second things first, Krista says troopers in Kitsap County “have stopped 56 drivers for talking on their cell phones. Forty-three of them were issued infractions for $124, while the other 13 were given verbal warnings. 

It’s what’s called a “secondary infraction,” which means it can only be tacked on if an officer sees a primary infraction like speeding. Krista said, “Troopers are seeing a variety of primary offenses which go along with the cell phone violation. Speed and lane travel are the two main reasons, based on feedback from troopers.

“The majority of drivers are aware of the hands-free law,” she added. 

 “In reference to Mr. Darnall’s questions,” she continued, “yes, the law specifically states that you are exempt while wearing a hearing device. (It) makes no reference to hearing devices that are transmitted through the cell phone.  

“As far as the leeway that he is looking for…that is up to each individual trooper or officer who makes the stop.  And, it does not hurt to have a doctor’s note handy explaining his circumstances.  

“There is no sticker that would be available to put on your license plate advising of hearing impairment.” 

I suggested the Jerry get a visor mounted cell phone unit and about the same time Leroy McVay of Poulsbo e-mailed with the same suggestion. 

“Ear-mount Blue Tooth doesn’t work for me,” Leroy said. “Got a visor mounted unit at Costco for $39.95, works great! 

“Internal battery, plugs in just like cell phone. They only provide a car cord.  Another advantage is your wife can use it without messing with the ear piece; great if they have hearing aids. They provide an ear bud if you really need privacy.”  












Will hands-free cell phone law really help?

The in basket: Frank Haney of Port Orchard e-mailed last October after I wrote about some misunderstandings as to what the hands-free cell phone law will forbid and when it is effective, which is July 1.
I had debunked a notion my wife had overheard at a garage sale that Bluetooth, the wireless earpiece that lets you talk without holding a cell phone to your ear, would be illegal if worn in the ear next to the window. It won’t.
But Frank wrote, “I don’t know if your wife’s friend is really off-base with the Bluetooth idea. I think that right now with the law as it currently is, the Bluetooth is an illegal device while drive a motor vehicle in the State of Washington.
“How do I think this, you ask?, Well, here you go.
“In the State of Washington, it is illegal to wear headphones or ear plugs while operating a motor vehicle on the public highways,” Frank said. “Things like iPods, cassette players and such are strictly forbidden when used with ear devices that would block or hinder the wearer from hearing outside noise such as other vehicles honking horns or, better yet, emergency vehicles running code.”
The out basket: Krista Hedstrom, spokeswoman for the local State Patrol detachment, says “The Bluetooth wireless device is allowed by law because it only covers one ear and allows you to hear what is going on within your surroundings.  
“Earphones, on the other hand, go in both ears, not allowing you to hear what is going on – which is why they are illegal while driving. 
 “The hands-free law does not apply to those driving an emergency vehicle or tow truck, those reporting illegal activity or emergencies, and does not apply to a person using a hearing aid,” she added in an aside.
The hand-free law forbids only holding a cell phone to your ear while driving. You still can dial one or look down at one.
I think those who consider this some major breakthrough in highway safety are kidding themselves. My personal experience tells me it will make things worse.
My Bluetooth set won’t stay in my ear. The wire loop over my ear yanks it out. I’ve always worn one of the largest hat sizes, so maybe my ears are outsized too. Anyway, I have to fiddle with the thing as I drive to keep it in my ear. And making sure whether it’s turned on or not is another distraction.
A wire is even worse. It can get tangled up. Finding it in a dark car in motion is hard and risky, and then you have to get it into your ear or – Heaven forbid – plugged into your cell phone.
I know all of this can be avoided by planning ahead or having the ear piece in your ear before starting out. But I expect thousands of cell phone users to be fumbling around with their new ear pieces around July 1, especially during incoming calls, and that a spike in wrecks will result.
Our new Prius is Bluetooth compatible, meaning you hear the phone call through a speaker in the car, so that may not be so bad. But most cars aren’t.
Krista says, “The WSP encourages drivers to become familiar with the hands-free device they have purchased prior to using it, and know how it operates so that it does not take away from their ability to drive. There are several hands-free devices; the one that clips onto your visor seems to be popular.
“Many people choose to leave the hands-free device attached to their ear the entire time they are in the car, that way they are not struggling to put it in place once they get a call,” she added.