In an statewide effort to curb distracted drivers and educate the public, the Gig Harbor Police Department dedicated patrol time this month to curbing those who text and drive.
Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey said the department has received state funds to help the focused patrol who have issued 65 distracted driving citations to drivers in Gig Harbor in the past month.
The new distracted driving state law took effect in July. Unlike past laws, this includes anyone holding a mobile device while operating a vehicle.
“It used to be people could get away with it if they were just answering a call or checking the time,” Busey said. “But now you can’t do that.”
Busey said he believes the number of tickets are high because driving with a phone is a habit many people need to break.
“It’s a bad habit,” Busey said. “This is definitely a safety initiative. We have too many accidents because of distracted driving.”
If a driver is pulled over for distracted driving, they could face a fine of $136. That fine doubles if someone is caught a second time. Distracted driving tickets also appear on a the driver's state licensing record. There are a few exceptions to the distracted driving rule, including;
- A driver who is using a personal electronic device to contact emergency services, such a 911.
- The use of a system by a transit system employee for time-sensitive relay communication between the transit system employee and the transit system's dispatch services.
- An individual employed as a commercial motor vehicle driver who uses a personal electronic device within the scope of such individual's employment.
- A person operating an authorized emergency vehicle.
According to the police department, the ticket fines are split between the city, state and a few other small entities. For every $136 a driver pays for a distracted driving ticket, $48.06 goes to the state, $47.94 goes to the city's general fund, $23 goes to the judicial information system, $10 goes towards auto theft prevention, $5 goes to emergency and trauma response crews and $2 goes towards efforts to curb traumatic brain injury.
From this recent effort the city received $3,116.10 in the general fund from distracted driving tickets.
"That's not much, just a drop in the bucket," Busey said. "When you calculate the cost for salaries, extra patrol time and more."
The average yearly budget for the Gig Harbor Police Department, Busey said, is $4.3 million.
Busey said there is enough dangerous elements to driving and he hopes having less distracted drivers on the road will lower the number of accidents in the city.
“Replying to a text message for just 20 seconds means you can drive over 100 yards,” Busey said. “That’s a long distance and things can happen.”