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'Texting while driving’ law to take effect Jan. 1

By RACHEL BRANT

Staff writer

Cellular phones come equipped with many features, but as of Jan. 1, one handy cell phone tool could get you a $124 ticket.

Washington State Patrol (WSP) will begin enforcing the state’s new law against sending text messages while driving at the beginning of the new year.

“Texting while driving was always a bad idea,” WSP Chief John R. Batiste stated in a news release. “Things happen too fast on the highway to take your eyes off the road long enough to read or type a message.”

WSP Lt. Ken Noland said sending text messages is “becoming a mainstream way of communication,” but it distracts people while driving and has been a contributing factor for various traffic accidents across the country.

“As technology increases we continue to be more and more distracted as we drive, whether it be getting a latte or having kids in the back, and it all takes our attention off the road,” Noland said.

Texting while driving is a secondary violation, so troopers cannot stop drivers if they see it occurring. But if the person is driving unsafely or breaking another law, troopers can stop the person and give him or her an additional ticket for text messaging while driving.

“When we see other driving errors, such as weaving or unsafe lane changes, we will not hesitate to write a second citation under the texting law if that contributed to the first violation,” Batiste stated.

If a text message or cell phone call requires immediate attention, WSP advises drivers to pull safely off the road, handle the text or call and then get back on the road and focus solely on driving.

Parents should specifically address the issue of text messaging and the hazards involved with their teenage drivers, according to WSP.

“There is no driver on the road skilled enough to drive and text at the same time,” Batiste stated. “Especially not a teenager with only a year or two of driving experience.”

Aside from the new “texting while driving” law taking effect Jan. 1, drivers also should begin shopping for a hands-free device for a cellular phone. As of July 1, people must use a hands-free device rather than hold a cellular phone while driving a vehicle. Enforcement for the hands-free law will be similar to the “texting while driving” law.

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