MARYSVILLE — “When you’re driving, you need to be driving,” said Sgt. Freddy Williams, public information officer for the Washington State Patrol in summing up the new cell phone law that went into effect July 1.
The law requires drivers to use some sort of hands-free device while driving and talking on a cell phone.
“If the phone is held up to your ear, under the new law, that’s illegal,” Williams continued.
The law makes talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device a secondary offense, meaning police or patrol officers can’t pull you over just for talking on the phone. They must see some other offense, which could be anything from speeding to an improper lane change to a busted taillight.
The tab for violating the cell phone rule is $124.
“It’s going to be expensive to make that call,” Williams said, adding the cell phone fine is likely to be on top of whatever penalty is imposed for the primary offense.
While Williams said patrol officers won’t be out hunting for cell phone users, he also stated the patrol certainly isn’t going to shy away from handing out violations.
“We are committed to enforcing the hands-free law,” he said.
“We going to take it pretty seriously,” echoed Sgt. Doug Lee of the Marysville Police Department. “We are going to do our best to enforce it.”
Williams said there are no statistics to show how often cell phone use leads to driving accidents. In order for the patrol or any police organization to know a cell phone led to a traffic mishap, there would need to be a witness or the guilty driver would have to admit he or she was talking on the phone. Still, Williams said driver inattention to the road is the primary cause of driver mistakes.
“We recognize that distractions are the main cause of accidents,” Lee said.
Again like Williams, Lee added there are no concrete statistics on cell phone related accidents. He did say that after one recent incident in Marysville, a driver admitted she was using her phone to send a text message at the time of the collision.
Besides cell phones, Williams said patrol officers routinely see drivers fiddling with their radios, putting on cosmetics, eating and plenty of other behaviors that take away from what drivers should be doing: watching the road. Lee talked about inattentive drivers who end up cruising off the road or don’t look up in time to effectively react to the car slowing down or stopping in front of them.
Drivers looking for options to handheld cell phones have plenty of directions to turn, according to Lisa Tierny, who manages the Radio Shack on State Avenue in Marysville. Those options go well beyond the Bluetooth earpieces with which many people are familiar.
Essentially, Bluetooth allows two devices to talk to each other wirelessly. Tierny said the technology is easy to set up, easy to use and can be applied to a multitude of devices as long as both are Bluetooth enabled. She added that most cell phones, especially newer phones, have Bluetooth technology built in. In those cases, an earpiece is all that is needed to make the phone hands-free and numerous types of earpieces are available.
Beyond Bluetooth, Tierny said cell phones can be wired to devices that clip to a car’s visor, essentially turning your cell phone into a speakerphone. In some cases, cell phones can be run through your car stereo. On newer model cars, some cell phones can be operated through a device built into your dashboard. If you are looking for the simplest and cheapest route to hands-free phoning, a wired headset might be the answer. The set simply plugs into your phone.
Williams said he has not received too many calls from members of the public looking for information or lodging complaints about the new law. He added there have been plenty of media calls, which he sees as a good thing. Both he and Lee said various news outlets are doing a good job of educating the public that the new rule is in effect.
Tierny said Radio Shack doesn’t allow her to discuss sales trends. She did say she hasn’t heard any complaints about the new law and that most of her customers are aware of it.
“I think the main thing is to tell people how easy it is to get a hands-free phone,” Tierny said.