What’s more dangerous than a drunk driver? You, on your phone, says governor

From the steps of the Capitol Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee had a warning for all the drivers trying to sneak in one last text.

“When you are driving while you are on a cellphone, you are more dangerous to yourself and everyone else on the road than a drunk driver with a .08 blood alcohol (level),” Inslee told the crowd.

“We have a simple message today: Put the cellphones down.”

State officials are working to get the word out about Washington’s Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act, which goes into effect Sunday and bans the use of handheld devices while driving, even when stopped in traffic.

Fines start at $136 and can go up to $234; violations will be reported to insurance companies, meaning violators could see their rates increase.

Other distractions, such as grooming, smoking, eating or reading, could result in a $99 ticket if you are pulled over for another offense.

The bill the Legislature passed would have delayed implementation of the law until 2019, but Inslee vetoed that part. At Monday’s event, he said the change in law is too important to wait.

State troopers are seeing more distracted drivers, said Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste.

“Last year, troopers contacted nearly 17,000 drivers for driving while using their cellphones and/or texting. We even had one collision caused last year by someone who was playing the game Pokemon GO,” he said.

“Every single one of these collisions is, in fact, preventable.”

To prove the point, with Inslee and Batiste looking on, WSP Trooper Cadet Cody Fath got behind the wheel of a driving simulator that shows users how hard it is to use a cellphone and still drive safely.

Each time Fath’s phone dinged, his gaze would go to the screen, then swing back to the road: “I’ve got a lot of notifications… Another text… I just veered into another lane and almost hit someone.”

A moment later, he crashed.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports fatalities in Washington from distracted driving increased 32 percent from 2014 to 2015. The majority of distracted drivers — 71 percent — are using a cellphone while driving.

Under the law, devices can be used if they are hands-free and can be started with a single touch or swipe. Drivers can use handheld devices when they are parked or out of the flow of traffic, or to contact emergency services.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869, @AbbySpegman

Related stories from The Olympian