Put down that cellphone; distracted-driving law is here

A new distracted driving law has come into effect in Washington state, making cell-phone, or any other electronic, use while driving a primary offense (meaning you can be pulled over for it). If you drive in Washington state, take note if you’ve been using your phone while driving.

The Seattle Times has all of the details, but here are the key points:

Q. What is banned?

The law forbids all handheld uses. Not just phone calls, but composing or reading any kind of message, social media post, photograph or data.

Drivers may not use handheld devices while at a stop sign or red-light signal.

All video watching is illegal, even in a dashboard or dash-mounted device.

This is fantastic. If you are having to hold your device in order to do something, you shouldn’t be driving at the same time (including stopped at a light, where people inevitably don’t see the light turn green).

Q. What’s legal?

Common built-in electronics, including hands-free phones, satellite music and maps, are legal.

Drivers may even turn on a smartphone that’s mounted in a dashboard cradle, for limited purposes such as navigation apps, a voice-activated call, or music streaming. The new law allows the “minimal use of a finger.”

Handheld phone calls to 911 or other emergency services are legal. [...] Amateur radio equipment and citizens-band radio remain legal.

This is where this law shines. It recognizes that for many people, including myself, their cell-phone is their car’s entertainment system. By allowing for “minimal use of a finger”, my phone can be my music and navigation center, as long as it’s dash-mounted. This use is similar to someone using the factory entertainment system in their car, which has been legal since cars have had them.

I do question how enforceable this law is, but at worst it is a step in the right direction. We will see over time how effective it is.

RCMP in BC Watching for Distracted Driving

As reported by the CBC, in BC the RCMP are starting to watch more closely for distracted drivers, from a long ways away:

The long arm of the law now has a super-long lens to catch distracted drivers — from as far as 1.2 kilometres away.

RCMP in B.C. are rolling out the powerful new lenses over the May long weekend, aimed at catching drivers texting or otherwise being distracted while behind the wheel.

While they can’t follow a moving vehicle, they will be watching vehicles stopped at intersections. If they see someone is distracted, they’ll take a photo or radio to an officer closer to the intersection to flag down the vehicle.

While the biggest reason for the new strategy is people distracted by cell phones, they will be looking for any other type of distraction as well:

“Putting on makeup, eating a bowl of cereal, reading a novel — we see all sorts of things as people are sitting in traffic,” said Wutke.

Overall I agree with this new strategy. Seemingly every day on my drive to and from work, delays are caused at lights were people are distracted and miss the light change. While less efficient traffic is a problem, those people are also more likely to be distracted while moving. Seeing someone distracted, swerving in their lane at highway speeds is unnerving every time and distraction does result in accidents.