New cell phone, texting laws begin Thursday

Officers can now stop drivers for texting or cell phone violations alone

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Beginning Thursday, Camas police officers will institute a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to ticketing drivers they see violating the new state cell phone and texting laws.

On March 26, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed Washington Senate Bill 6345, which makes text messaging and cell phone use without a hands-free device while driving a primary offense. The law takes effect on Thursday. Violators will receive a $124 fine.

“Come the 10th, we’re not going to cut any slack, basically,” said Camas Sgt. Doug Norcross. “It’s not something drivers need time to get used to. If you do it, you’re going to get a ticket.”

Another stipulation of the new law states that individuals with an instruction permit or intermediate license (typically drivers ages 16 to 18) may not use a cell phone anytime while driving, even if they have a hands-free device.

Washington has had a ban on text messaging while driving and a law against talking on a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device since January 2008, but up until now both were considered a “secondary enforcement law.” This means that a driver would only receive a ticket unless he or she had been pulled over for another driving violation.

Camas Chief Mitch Lackey said the department is expecting to see a number of violations when the new law takes effect.

“I think the violation we are going to see far more of is talking on the cell phone,” Lackey said. “I see that everyday.”

A local effort to build awareness of the new rules is underway.

Since Friday, a reader board informing drivers of the new law has been placed at different locations around Camas including Northwest Sixth Avenue heading west toward the Highway 14 on-ramp, Northeast Third Avenue, and Northeast Everett Street.”I’m trying to hit all of the major roadways into and out of town,” Norcross said.

The Washington State Patrol has also said that its troopers will not offer a grace period to drivers who violate the law.

“Drivers have already had two years to adjust their driving habits,” said WSP Chief John R. Batiste. “We will fully enforce this law from day one.”

The WSP has written approximately 3,000 tickets and given about 5,900 warnings since the laws went into effect in 2008. Batiste said he believes the number of collisions caused by inappropriate use of mobile devices is under-reported.

“Few drivers are going to admit they were on a cell phone, or texting, after a crash,” he said. “We are choosing to take action before a collision occurs in hopes of preventing these needless tragedies.”

The new law includes a handful of exceptions that allow for cell phone use when driving including when: a person is operating an authorized emergency vehicle or a tow truck driver is responding to a disabled vehicle; a person is using a wireless communications device in hands-free mode; a person is using a cell phone to report illegal activity, or summon emergency help or prevent injury to a person or property.

Norcross said all CPD patrol vehicles have been outfitted with hands-free devices, even though they aren’t required by law.

“We want to set an example to the motoring public,” he said. “If you guys are forced to do it, then we can do it too.”