Cracking down on drivers using cellphones is good policy

Distracted driving is an illegal and dangerous behavior.

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The Washington State Patrol is now strongly enforcing the law that bans driving while talking or texting on a cellphone. Troopers have issued five times more tickets than before it became a primary offense. That works out to 6,850 citations in the past 12 months.

Frankly, we are surprised more citations weren't issued -- a lot more.

It doesn't take but a few seconds to spot a driver with a cellphone glued to his or her ear. Despite it being illegal, driving while yakking on a cellphone remains an epidemic problem.

Perhaps law enforcement -- locally and across the state -- are working on changing that.

Emphasis patrols aimed at cell-phone violators (as well as seat-belt scofflaws) took place three times between May 23 and June 5. Walla Walla Police, College Place Police and Washington State Patrol made 108 traffic stops resulting in 26 citations for cellphone violations and 22 for not wearing seat belts. Another 39 drivers received warnings.

Another emphasis is planned later this summer.

Let's hope these emphasis patrols become more and more frequent.

The message has to be received by drivers that talking or texting with a cellphone is an illegal and dangerous behavior.

Gary Bainter, a retired Walla Walla Police Department captain who for several years wrote the Street Smarts column for the U-B, cited a study in the Journal of Human Factors in which researchers concluded that a driver talking on a cellphone is 5.36 times more likely to be involved in a collision than nondistracted drivers. This same study found that talking on a cellphone reduced reaction time by 9 percent and drivers are as impaired as legally drunk drivers.

It's time we, as a society, finally got serious about reducing the number of distracted drivers who are on the road. The problem will only be curbed when drivers believe they are going to be hit with a $124 fine.

The emphasis patrols, which are funded by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, are a good way to make believers of drivers.



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