REDMOND, Wash. – Washington state's new cell phone law goes into effect just after midnight on Thursday. That means you could be slapped with a $124 ticket if a cop merely sees you holding your cell phone to your ear while you are driving.
Sande English has been a traffic officer for the City of Redmond for more than six years. She was a patrol officer before that. She cites studies saying that talking on a cell phone is like drinking and driving.
Even with the current law where talking on a cell phone without a hands free device is considered a secondary offense, markers are there that somebody is thinking more about chatting than driving.
"It's similar to the DUI markers that you see. They'll be weaving in their lane of travel, crossing the center line or the fog line. They'll either be a few miles over the speed limit or, more often than not, they're under the speed limit," she says.
Then there's the classic "sitting at a green light." All are giveaways for the police to spot someone on the phone or someone under the influence.
As an officer who also works on the department's major accident investigations team, she sees the kind of carnage a bad accident and driver inattention can bring. English says her department will follow state guidelines allowing for no grace period come Thursday morning. She seems fine with that.
There are some exceptions, but for most of us adult drivers, this is now the new law plays out.
- If you need to talk on a cell phone, the best way is with a hands free device, like a wireless Bluetooth, or an earpiece that connects to the phone with a cord.
- If you insist on using an actual cell phone, the state patrol says it might be better to think of the new law as an "ears free" law. If you hold a phone up to your ear, you're a candidate for a ticket.
- Holding your phone with your shoulder while keeping your hands free? Busted.
- Putting the phone on speaker and laying it on your dashboard or console is OK.
But where the Washington State Patrol interprets the law as saying it's OK to hold a phone on speaker in front of your face, that will still get you a ticket in Redmond says English.
"It's not hands free," she says.
Texting is forbidden. The state patrol says texting at a stop light while not moving might pass muster by splitting legal hairs, but you're still responsible for operating the car. So, even if you're stuck at a light, you still need to be prepared to move out of the way of that emergency vehicle behind you. The patrol expects that kind of case to be hashed out by the courts.
It is legal to dial a phone number or call up or enter a name, even while moving. But texting or e-mailing will get you a big fat fine.
So, what if you're on the freeway and have to take that call? Pulling over for a non-emergency on the freeway or on another road where parking or stopping is illegal will get you an illegal parking ticket, although not a ticket for the phone.
We hear of some people who have interesting interpretations of the law. One is that it only applies to freeways. That's wrong. The new cell phone law applies to any public right of way in the state. If you're in an alley with a flip phone to your ear, you'll get busted.
All that said, the ticket won't count as a moving violation on your record and won't be reported to your insurance company.