State’s texting law is not keeping up with drivers, smartphones

Sep 7, 2015, 3:58 PM | Updated: Sep 8, 2015, 5:39 am
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Any driver on the road knows the signs, such as sudden swerving, slow travel, or weaving in and out of lanes. While some might assume drunk driving to be the cause, many know the signs to be symptoms of another roadway danger: Texting while driving.

Washington has a no texting while driving law. But as The Seattle Times’ FYI Guy reports, that law may fail to cover its original intent &#8212 to get drivers to ignore their phones and keep their eyes on the road. It was passed long before the time of the smartphone, and the wide range of activity a person can now use the devices for, beyond texting. A person can be checking Facebook, surfing the Web, or crafting the ultimate road trip music playlist all from behind the wheel.

“The law that goes back to 2007 talks about being in a moving vehicle while texting,” Feliks Banel told co-host John Curley on KIRO Radio’s Tom and Curley Show. Of course, there’s all this other stuff you can do with your phone now that you couldn’t do eight years ago.”

Curley agreed.

“It’s a poorly written and difficult to enforce law,” he said.

“It’s very hard for an officer because there’s a lot of gray area in there. You can be looking at your cell phone if you are following a map, but you can’t be texting somebody if you are driving along,” Curley said. “You can stop, like if you come to a stop light or sign, and text somebody if you need, but not while you’re rolling along.”

RCW 46.61.668 states that: “(1)(a) Except as provided in subsection (2)(a) of this section, a person operating a moving noncommercial motor vehicle who, by means of an electronic wireless communications device, sends, reads, or writes a text message, is guilty of a traffic infraction.”

In 2014, traffic cops issued 101 tickets for the offense, the Seattle Times reports. The FYI guy points out that the low ticket numbers are largely due to how difficult it can be for police to prove texting was happening while the car was actually moving.

One retired Seattle police officer, Louie Olivarez, told the Times how he wrote the majority of texting tickets in the city. He issued 66 tickets to drivers texting while at the wheel between 2010-15. The officer said he was able to spot so many drivers because he knew good spots, such as the 2200 block of 1st Avenue South.

But spotting texting while driving is still hard. So Officer Olivarez has to get the driver to admit to the offense. He told the Times that most drivers own up to doing it.

In an effort to combat the distracting behavior, some companies have developed apps to communicate when a driver simply cannot. One company, Curley noted, is AT&T.

“The way the app works for AT&T customers, is it can tell when you are traveling more than 25 miles an hour,” Curley said. “So if you get a text on your phone, it will automatically text back, ‘I’m driving now, and I can’t answer this text.”

John Curley and Shari Elliker on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 3pm for John Curley and Shari Elliker.

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State’s texting law is not keeping up with drivers, smartphones