New cellphone-while-driving law requires common sense
Washington's new cellphone law has a few quirks and surprises. The best way to avoid the $124 ticket as a primary offense is to know the rules.
THE law moves more slowly than technology, so there will be many legitimate questions about — and adjustments to — Washington's new cellphone law. But questions and obscure legal points aside, the roads should be safer with the ban than without it.
By now, most Washingtonians have discovered the new rules are in effect and behavior is changing. But for those die-hard handheld cellphone users and text aficionados, there are $124 tickets. As of last Thursday, drivers need not be violating another law to get stopped and ticketed for cellphone use. The cellphone ban is now a primary offense.
The more you understand the law, the better your chances for not landing a ticket. A few examples:
• Absolutely no texting while driving — no ifs, ands or buts.
• No holding the cellphone to the ear while talking.
• No texting or phone use for teenagers or others with intermediate licenses.
• The law specifically allows dialing or even looking up a name in one's contact file. None of this is safe but it is allowed.
• You may use headsets with earphones but on only one ear because of the need to hear emergency vehicles or train whistles. This is part of a different law but remains a rule of the road.
Some innovative cellphone zealots are trying to cradle the phone between shoulder and ear to ensure they are driving hands-free. No, no, no. A really bad idea because it becomes nearly impossible to look left and right, which drivers need to do.
Here is a surprise for everyone. Drivers are allowed to have the phone in speaker mode and hold it in the hand for speaking. This, of course, could be defined as a "handheld" phone but is permissible because the driver is not holding a phone to the ear, and the law specifically allows speaker mode.
Lawmakers were well behind technology when they passed the bill, because it does not address the dangerous practice of surfing the Web on a smart phone.
State Patrol officials suspect there will be 39 different interpretations of the law in 39 counties. The safe driver will not bother to test the law, but if everyone drove safely we would not be having this discussion.
Oddly, Global Position Systems built into a vehicle are permitted and it is even OK to receive traffic messages through GPS. It should not be, but it is. Handheld GPS devices are allowed, too.
A broader discussion looms that conversation itself is distracting while driving a vehicle. So motorists should multitask less. Some of this is common sense. Lawmakers cannot protect us from everything.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.