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Originally published Monday, November 5, 2012 at 5:34 PM

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Inattentive driving could soon cost you $124 in King County

The Metropolitan King County Council has approved a new traffic infraction — inattentive driving — with fines that could bring in about $75,000 next year.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Could this drive some creative innovation?? A GREEN light Camera? Light turns green... MORE
People really need to stop multi-tasking in their cars. You have one task: driving. ... MORE
Fully support this. I think the fine is too low however. How many of you would text... MORE

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You know the problem on Seattle-area streets. A green light means you go as soon as the driver in front of you is done texting.

To fight this, and other forms of dangerous cluelessness, the Metropolitan King County Council has approved a new infraction: inattentive driving.

Did we mention the infraction, imposed as part of the county's 2013 budget, also would raise money for the county?

In what county officials call a conservative estimate, they predict the new charge — at $124 per infraction, the same as Seattle and Bellevue charge — would bring in about $75,000 next year.

That's small change in a 2013 general-fund budget of $684 million. But as the council has noted, distracted driving resulted in 122 deaths in King County between 2004 and 2008. And, police have reported that incidents of distracted driving are increasing.

The council unanimously approved the new infraction Monday, making it a secondary offense, meaning police officers can't use it as the primary reason for pulling a driver over. An officer would have to have some other cause to stop the driver.

It would become effective next year, with the 2013 budget. According to a council report, inattentive driving includes talking, eating, putting on makeup and attending to children. Using cellphones and other electronics also are considered distractions.

And unlike the more severe offense of negligent driving in the second degree — driving that is negligent and endangers a person or property — inattentive driving would not impact your driving record for insurance purposes or result in suspending your license. It also wouldn't count as a violation that could later classify a driver as a habitual traffic offender.

"I like the fact it doesn't raise insurance rates or criminalize" the infraction, said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. She also noted the new charge doesn't flatly prohibit drivers from eating. "It's saying you can't do that to the point of inattention."

As a council analyst reported, the new charge is "essentially a plea bargain." It aims to get people to acknowledge they weren't driving safely while a more severe charge, such as negligent driving, may not be warranted.

And the new charges come with a side benefit. All revenues collected as a result stay with the county, unlike the state "use of a cellphone" violation, which requires the county to split infraction fees with the state.

In proposing the new charge, county Executive Dow Constantine wrote it "would provide the Prosecuting Attorney and defendants an additional tool to use in the resolution of contested infraction cases."

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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