Washington state routinely leads the nation in seat-belt use.
But when it comes to not driving while distracted either talking on the cellphone or texting — not so good. That’s got to change. And that’s going to change.
Later this month the State Patrol, Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office, Walla Walla Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in Southeastern Washington will target scofflaws who use electronic devices when driving.
Between May 20 and June 2, motorists in Walla Walla and Garfield counties will see extra patrols on city and county roads searching for drivers using their cellphones as well as unbuckled drivers and passengers, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
When the state made wearing a seat belt mandatory in 1986, it took a lot of folks a long time to get serious about buckling up. Why, because the state wasn’t particularly serious about ticketing offenders. Not wearing a seat belt was considered a secondary offense, meaning a ticket could be issued only if a driver was initially pulled over for another offense such as speeding.
By 2002, just over 80 percent — four out of five — were wearing seat belts, and a major reason for the relatively high use rate was an aggressive education campaign touting the survival rate of those wearing seat belts. Still, about 20 percent were foolishly not wearing their seat belts. What to do?
The Legislature made not using a seat belt a primary offense. It worked. Washington now has the highest seat-belt use in the nation at 97.5 percent.
Although it has been illegal to use electronic devices while driving in Washington since 2008, the practice remains rampant. Why? The old excuse every kid since Moses has given mom and dad — “Everybody does it.”
Nearly 70 percent of U.S. drivers admitted talking on their cellphones when driving, according to study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And nearly half of adults in the study said they text and drive.
That number will be much lower in Washington state later this month or a number of drivers will find $124 less in their pockets after paying the no-electronic-device-while-driving fine.
During last year’s cellphone abuse crackdown, 1,059 cellphone violations were written statewide. In 2010, the year cellphone driving became a primary offense, just 63 drivers were cited statewide.
Law enforcement is taking this crackdown seriously. It’s time to put down the electronic devices and focus only on the road, and not only May 20 to June 2.