The driver of a silver-colored Honda Element held a mobile phone to her ear with her right hand. She talked as she made her way through southbound stop-and-go traffic Thursday afternoon on Meridian in Puyallup. She kept talking even as she passed a marked Washington State Patrol car.
Trooper Brandy Kessler flipped on her flashing lights and followed the Element into a parking lot. Kessler asked the driver if she had heard of the law that requires drivers to use a hands-free device for mobile phones. After two years as a secondary offense, the law became a primary offense Thursday. That means drivers may be cited for it even if they aren’t committing any other violations. It also prohibits texting while driving.
“I just thought it was a secondary law,” said the 31-year-old Puyallup woman, who didn’t want to be identified by name. “I had no idea. I didn’t know I could be stopped for it.”
Kessler went back to her patrol car to write a $124 ticket.
“That’s one where you feel bad after writing the ticket,” Kessler said.
Now that the driver is aware of the law, will she change her behavior?
“I might be more careful about it, but I don’t think it will stop me from using it altogether,” the woman said while Kessler was away. “I might pull over to use it. I do have a Bluetooth somewhere. Maybe I’ll dig that out.”
She added, “I definitely do not text. I think that’s really super-dangerous.”
On Thursday, law enforcement officers around the state began citing drivers, who are allowed to contest the tickets in court. State Patrol Chief John Batiste said his agency would be strict.
“We’re fully enforcing the law today – those were our chief’s words exactly,” Kessler said. “We’re writing tickets. Nobody’s going to get a warning.”
During the past two years when the law was a secondary offense, some drivers blatantly used cell phones in front of troopers.
“They would look right at our troopers with phones held to their ears,” Batiste said in a news release. “They knew that without another violation we couldn’t do anything.”
Troopers are “looking forward to the opportunity to write tickets after watching these people disregard the law for so long,” Kessler said.
In two hours, Kessler cited two drivers.
“People, I think, are getting the message,” Kessler said. “Either that, or they’re hiding it from me.”
Kessler said the goal is to save lives and prevent injury. While paramedics and firefighters are praised as heroes for saving lives, she said, troopers save lives by writing citations and raising awareness.
“So in a way, we’re heroes too,” she said. “But people don’t look at it that way when they’re getting a 124-dollar ticket.”
Cole Cosgrove: 253-597-8267 firstname.lastname@example.org