Traffic Q&A: Cellphone or no, cops notice distracted drivers

Staff writerJune 2, 2014 

Question: On my way to work and on grocery trips over the weekend, I look around and see numerous drivers making left turns, right turns and just sitting at lights that have turned green, as they are busy with their cellphones.

On many occasions I have seen Tacoma police at the intersection who will not pull over these careless drivers who put the rest of us at risk by their inattention. Why are these scofflaws not ticketed? – Vick, Tacoma

Answer: There’s no policy of tolerance for cellphone use in Tacoma, according to Loretta Cool, a spokeswoman for the Tacoma Police Department. Driving while yakking on the phone is illegal in the city, as it is in the rest of the state, she said, and Tacoma cops do write tickets.

Cool admits, though, that officers are more likely to cite somebody if it’s clear that their driving is suffering from inattention. “Distracting driving causes a lot of accidents,” she said.

Other times, she said, when it appears as if officers are ignoring cellphone use, they just might not be noticing it.

“Sometimes officers just don’t see the violations,” she said. “Phones were not illegal for some time, and then the law changed. So I think a lot of times they just kind of space on the phone violation. Usually they see the moving violation; then they realize the person is on the phone.”

From 2007 to 2010, using a cellphone while driving was a secondary offense in Washington, which meant that you could get a ticket only if you were pulled over for some other violation first.

In 2010 the Legislature turned hand-held mobile phone use into a primary offense, meaning if police see you talking on the phone or texting while driving, they can pull you over and ticket you, even if your driving was not obviously affected.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

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