Friday, January 2, 2009

Huh, Officer? Whaddya Say?

Apparently the law banning cell phone usage while driving is not having it's intended effect. I'm all for keeping drivers from using cell phones. I've had my fair share of close calls especially while riding my bike. The law that went into effect last July was a good step but I believe there are a couple of flaws in Section 46.61.667 of the Revised Code of Washington.

(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, a person operating a moving motor vehicle while holding a wireless communications device to his or her ear is guilty of a traffic infraction.

I'd like to point out that you don't have to be engaged in an actual call. You only have to be holding the phone next to your ear.

(2) Subsection (1) of this section does not apply to a person operating:

(a) An authorized emergency vehicle, or a tow truck responding to a disabled vehicle;

(b) A moving motor vehicle using a wireless communications device in hands-free mode;

Hmm. If you're using the device in hands-free mode, you are good to go. You're attention is still diverted even though you're not holding the phone to your ear. You might as well make driving one-handed a secondary offense. But that would really piss off drivers who have only one arm, rednecks, gang bangers, and anyone else hanging one arm out the window.

(c) A moving motor vehicle using a hand-held wireless communications device to:

(i) Report illegal activity;

(ii) Summon medical or other emergency help;

(iii) Prevent injury to a person or property;

(d) A moving motor vehicle while using a hearing aid.

Next problem. People using hearing aids, a subgroup I belong to, are not in violation. Their attention is also diverted regardless of their hearing condition. It's still unsafe. Yes, even for me.

(6) Enforcement of this section by law enforcement officers may be accomplished only as a secondary action when a driver of a motor vehicle has been detained for a suspected violation of this title or an equivalent local ordinance or some other offense.

The biggest flaw is that this is a secondary offense. That means you can drive with a cell phone next to your ear with impunity as long as you don't commit any other traffic offense.

Intent -- 2007 c 417: "The use of wireless communications devices by motorists has increased in recent years. While wireless communications devices have assisted with quick reporting of road emergencies, their use has also contributed to accidents and other mishaps on Washington state roadways. When motorists hold a wireless communications device in one hand and drive with the other, their chances of becoming involved in a traffic mishap increase. It is the legislature's intent to phase out the use of hand-held wireless communications devices by motorists while operating a vehicle."

If we want to fix the problem, we need to address it directly. The problem is not holding the phone to your ear. The problem is your attention being diverted from the task at hand which is driving on a public roadway.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, following your logic, you might as well make it illegal to ride with someone else. Or at least, a secondary offense to be talking to a passenger. Moreover, God forbid you're riding with children in the car! Texting or using the phone for dialing is where it gets considerably more dangerous, IMO.

Nick said...

I can't believe it when I see drivers still yapping away on their cell phones while attempting to drive in these icy conditions.

Talking while driving really needs to be a primary offense. I seem to recall research equating the level of driving impairment from cell phone use with that from alcohol. So why should the law treat the two things any differently?

In the end, though, I have to wonder what phone call is so important that it cannot wait five minutes for you to find a place to park your car.

Hank Greer said...

Anonymous: My point exactly. There's not much logic involved.