Hundreds of traffic deaths spark crackdown on distracted driving

KOMO photo

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Hundreds of people killed in accidents on the state's roadways would be alive today if only motorists would put down their cell phones while driving, says the Washington State Patrol.

And to help prevent future deaths, state troopers say they will be out in the coming days conducting emphasis patrols as part of a crackdown on distracted driving.

According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, distracted driving is the cause of 30 percent of traffic fatalities and makes up 23 percent of all serious injury collisions in the state. That amounts to hundreds of people killed and families torn apart by the untimely loss of a mother, father, son or daughter.

Yet many drivers keep on texting, calling or playing games on their smartphone or other electronic devices while cruising down the highway.

So far in 2018, the State Patrol has cited 18,557 drivers for distracted driving. In 2017, troopers stopped 17,058 drivers.

Under state law, drivers are prohibited from using a personal electronic device while operating a motor vehicle on a public highway - which includes when stopped in traffic or at a traffic light.

Personal electronic devices aren’t just limited to cell phones, but also include laptops, tablets, gaming devices or other digital media. A driver is only allowed the minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function on the device.

There are a few exceptions under the law. Drivers are allowed to use their phones if it is hands-free and can be started by using a single touch or swipe of a finger. Motorists also are allowed to use a cell phone to call 911 or if they are parked or stopped out of the flow of traffic and safely off the roadway.

The penalty for distracted driving is a $136 citation for the first offense. If you’re issued another citation within five years, the penalty raises to at least $234. Additionally, each offense is reported to your insurance companies.

Drivers can also be penalized for a secondary violation of dangerously distracted driving if they commit a traffic violation because they were distracted. The penalty for that is $99.

But more to the point - the State Patrol asks - is how would you feel if you knew that you had caused someone's death because you were texting while driving?

"There is no call, text, or update that is worth a life," the State Patrol said in its warning about the upcoming emphasis patrols. "Let’s all work together to keep Washington roads safe by paying attention."

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