Traffic Q&A: Don’t make dangerous situation worse by pointing a camera at a texting driver

Question: What is the best way to report other drivers who text and drive? Calling 911 seems severe, but I’m not sure what else to do. If it’s safe to do so, should my passenger video these obvious scofflaws to help State Patrol secure a conviction?

We saw texting drivers nearly cause two wrecks on Interstate 5 last weekend alone. In both cases, the drivers weaved across several lanes, sometimes using the raised pavement markers as guides. They changed speeds from 40 mph to around 70 mph and back, often with no warning.

My passenger saw each intently staring at their phones and texting as we passed by. — Kate M., Tacoma

Answer: As is ever the case on the open road, mind your safety first, as much as possible. This means giving plenty of road to folks who let their phones take them to a mental point of oblivion to their surroundings and the dangers they’re creating.

If they’re swerving, give them space. If they’re driving at inconsistent speeds, stay well back or pass when you’re sure it’s safe.

Just as importantly, don’t confront them — and this includes pointing a camera their way. Road rage is a real, and wildly unpredictable, thing. If someone’s going to disregard their own safety to drop into planet smartphone while driving, you probably can’t expect them to care much about yours.

“I absolutely do NOT recommend taking a photograph of another driver,” Washington State Patrol spokesman Trooper Guy Gill wrote in an email, and the capital letters are his.

“Keep in mind you have no idea what that other driver will do or is capable of doing if you’re seen doing it. Don’t get yourself in a possible dangerous road rage situation over a traffic infraction.”

The thing to do, according to Gill and Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool, is to dial 911 with the car’s description, tag number, location and direction as soon as is safe and prudent.

(We recommend pulling off the road to dial if you don’t have a passenger on board to do the calling).

The dispatchers, police radio and, ultimately, Officer Friendly’s ticket book can best handle things from there while you’re responsibly getting to your own destination.

That said, don’t go mentally adding the hundred bucks to municipal coffers as soon as you see the blue lights pulling such a driver off the road. Washington law hasn’t kept up with the times, and your communication-addled driver is the beneficiary.

As written back in 2007, the law specifically bans texting, and only texting, while driving. Tweeting, playing games, finding a well-reviewed restaurant and updating Facebook aren’t covered.

Does this get abused? Absolutely. In the waning days of this past Tacoma summer, we watched incredulously on South 19th Street as the driver of a blue Jeep in the adjoining eastbound lane to ours conducted a video chat while driving down toward the city center from Hilltop.

If it weren’t for the driver with a large gray cat lounging on the dashboard we dodged on a trip through Seattle the prior week, we’d consider the Video-Chatty Cathy of Hilltop our most egregiously distracted driver in recent memory.

The cops have seen worse. Cool reports that she’s watched drivers “applying make-up, reading a book, pouring coffee, shaving (and) texting” while their hands should’ve been at 10 and 2 and their eyes on the road.

“People treat their cars like their home and forget they are traveling 60 mph with other moving objects,” Cool wrote in an email.

And while it’s easy to write this off as a problem of 21st century technology, distracted driving has been a bane for as long as we’ve trusted humans to pilot cars.

Your correspondent’s own mother was nearly killed back in Mississippi — lost a kidney, spent days in the hospital — decades ago in a wreck when she was 17. Her car was hit by a driver reading from a Bible open on the dash, police told our grandmother.

Doesn’t matter if it’s Snapchat or Deuteronomy — reckless driving isn’t wreckless driving. Report it when you see it, the police say.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693