Thursday marked the start of stepped up enforcement of Washington's talking and texting while driving laws. Generally speaking, you must use a hands free device and you are not allowed to text while driving. There are some exceptions, such as reporting an emergency. Police can pull you over if they see a violation and issue you a $124 ticket. (Previously, violations were a secondary offense, only ticketed when seen in conjunction with a primary offense.)
But Traffic Q&A readers continue to write in with questions about the nuances of the law. This week we answer some of those with the help of Sgt. Freddy Williams of the Washington State Patrol.
Question: “I’m wondering if the CB is affected by the new cell phone laws.” – John Underhill, Tacoma
Answer: “No, use of the CB radio is not affected by the cell phone law,” says Williams.
Question: “Is it illegal and will you receive a citation if you are using your cell phone without a hands free device while parked/stopped at a red light, intersection, or traffic jam?” asks reader Bob Mc-Cutchan
Answer: Being temporarily stopped doesn’t matter under the law – you’re still driving. “You are in the lane of travel and traffic can and will proceed at a moment’s notice,” Williams said.
Question: “Will a driver who is holding a wireless communications device with a speaker in front of him (instead of to his ear) receive a ticket?” – Dave Overstreet, Bellevue
Answer: No. The law specifically references holding a cell phone to the ear, and allows for use of devices employing a speaker, headset or earpiece.
Question: “Why do we not demand that State Patrol, sheriff, and police employees also follow the law they are going to be enforcing?” wrote reader Alex Jacobs “Should they not be setting an example?”
Answer: The Legislature specifically exempted drivers of “authorized emergency vehicles,” including law enforcement. Police say it’s important that they have a secure channel of communication outside the radio spectrum, which can be monitored.
But Williams noted that the WSP has re-written its regulation manual to include a regulation prohibiting troopers from using a cell phone without a hands-free device. “Although the law provides us an exemption, I believe we should set a good example for the motoring public,” said Patrol Chief John Batiste in announcing the change.