Opinion

You’ve been warned enough; put that phone away, driver

Be careful where you fiddle with the cool new features on the iphone 10 that Santa gave you for Christmas (or the Google Pixel 2, if you favor android devices over Apple products). When heading out on the road, drivers would be smart to stow all gadgets in the glove compartment.

And obsessive-compulsive technophiles? Save yourself from an expensive ticket — and the rest of us from your distracted driving — by putting your phone and other handheld toys well out of reach. Lock them in the trunk, if necessary.

When Washington’s new distracted-driving law went into effect last summer, most law enforcement agencies had a grace period in which officers gave warnings and polite lectures, but few tickets. They were more than generous in providing drivers time to adapt.

That all changed on New Year’s Day. The Washington State Patrol, among others, says it will fully enforce the law in 2018; troopers will pull out their ticket books when they observe drivers talking or texting on a mobile device, taking selfies, watching videos, swiping the touchscreen or otherwise manipulating it. Fines will start at $136 and rise to $234 on subsequent offenses. And yes, tickets go on your driving record, so you’ll also pay through higher insurance rates.

The punitive shift comes not a moment too soon. Some overly indulgent legislators last year wanted to wait until 2019 to enforce the law. Gov. Jay Inslee wisely vetoed that section of the bill, recognizing that tech-absorbed motorists pose a clear and present danger.

If you don’t believe the governor, ask a traffic cop, emergency room doctor or grieving family member about the need for immediate action. Digital-age distractions might soon surpass drunk driving as a top threat to public health. Washington traffic deaths resulting from distracted driving increased by nearly 32 percent between 2014 and 2015, rising faster than any other accident cause.

Preliminary figures provided Tuesday by the State Patrol show 5,603 warnings have been given statewide since the law went into effect in July, compared to only 1,162 citations. In Pierce and Thurston counties, there were 894 warnings and 199 citations.

Handing out more tickets not only will have a deterrent effect, similar to what DUI and seatbelt laws have achieved, it also will generate revenue that the new law earmarks for a state distracted-driving prevention account.

The era of patience might be over, but the time for education has only begun. Billboards, public service announcements and police-emphasis patrols, all trumpeting a zero-tolerance message on E-DUI (driving under the influence of electronics), give Washington its best shot to curtail a problem that looms ever larger as our gadget-captive children reach driving age.

And what about other common causes of distracted driving, such as eating, drinking and applying makeup in a moving vehicle? The new law gives cops a reasonable tool to crack down on those bad habits in 2018, too, although it’s a secondary offense in such cases and scofflaws must be demonstrably distracted.

So when storing your iPhone in the trunk, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put your cosmetics bag and fast-food takeout order back there as well.

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