Crackdown on cell-phone abuse coming

Starting June 10, law-enforcement officers can issue $124 ticket for those driving with a hand-held cell phone. This fine should change behavior.


Earlier this year the Legislature made a wise decision to make it a primary offense to drive while using a hand-held cell phone to talk or to be reading, writing or sending text messages.

Previously, it was a secondary offense, which is the state's way of saying that law enforcement officers couldn't pull drivers over even though they were breaking the law.

This approach was absurd, particularly given the dangers created by drivers yakking on their cell phones. Studies have shown drivers on cell phones are just as impaired as legally drunk drivers. Those talking on the cell phone had reduced reaction time by 9 percent.

This new-and-better cell-phone law, which will allow cops to pull over those on a phone, becomes effective next month. Given that, one would think drivers would either put away their cell phones or switch to a hands-free Bluetooth system.

Yet, that's not happening. It seems every other driver has a phone in hand.

When will it end?

Our guess is when law enforcement starts issuing tickets in June. We suspect the $124 fine will quickly make an impression. Once word spreads that police are serious about cracking down on cell-phone use, the practice will be greatly reduced.

Walla Walla Police Capt. Gary Bainter, who writes a regular column in the U-B on traffic safety called "Street Smarts," has made it clear he sees cell-phone misuse as a life-and-death matter.

This week Bainter again wrote about cell-phone misuse when he focused on the tragic death of 9-year-old Erica Forney in 2008. She was killed while riding her bike by a driver who conceded she was distracted by her cell phone.

"For many of us, driving while talking with our cell phones pressed to our ear has become a habit, whether for social or business reasons, it doesn't matter," Bainter wrote.

"After numerous studies, it became apparent that this is a dangerous habit, and in 2005 it was found to be responsible for 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries across the nation."

Later, Bainter writes, "There are many stories similar to Erica's, where lives are destroyed and families devastated all because someone believed that it wouldn't happen to them. We all need to keep reminding ourselves that driving is a full-time job in order to keep our streets safe."

And if we don't remind ourselves of that, starting June 10, law enforcement officers will. The $124 fine should be enough to make sure most of us don't forget.


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