Walla Walla drivers ticketed 49 times for cell phone use

A city police officer says behavior appears to backsliding after initial compliance with restrictions that started June 10.

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WALLA WALLA -- Drivers in the city have been ticketed 49 times for using their cell phones since the law went into effect on June 10.

Under the new law talking on a cell-phone without a hands-free device while driving is a primary offense, which means officers need no other cause to pull over a driver. The $124 ticket is not reported to insurance companies and does not go on the driver's record.

Out of the 49 tickets in Walla Walla, six have been written by the county Sheriff's Office and 43 have been written by the Walla Walla Police Department. According to the College Place Police Department, no tickets have been issued in College Place for cell phone usage in 2010.

Sheriff's Capt. Bill White said it may take people a few years to get used to this law.

"To the normal person it's probably less of a perceived danger," White said. To many drivers, wearing a seat belt can save their lives while not using their cell phone has less of an obvious impact, he said.

Before June 10, Washington drivers could still receive a ticket for using their cell phone, but it was a secondary offense, meaning drivers could not be pulled over solely for cell-phone violations. Only 25 tickets were written in Walla Walla for cell phone usage in 2010 prior to the new law.

For the first week after June 10 there was excellent compliance with the new law, said city police Officer Dennis McKee. "It seems like now a few people are backsliding a bit," he said. He sees many drivers dropping their phones when they see a patrol car, but overall the law is encouraging people to use a hands-free device or not use their cell-phones.

The new law doesn't include using a cell phone to report illegal activity, call for emergency help, someone with a hearing aid, tow trucks en route or emergency vehicles.

Washington is the sixth state to make cell-phone usage law a primary offense, joining California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Oregon.

Jennifer Jorgenson can be reached at jenniferjorgenson@wwub.com.

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