Hands-Free Law In Effect

SPOKANE — From now on, all of Washington’s 4.6 million drivers must use a hands-free device if they want to talk on a cell phone while behind the wheel of a car.

Lawmakers hope the ban on hand-held phone use will cut distracted driving, but the country’s largest car club disagrees.

“Using a cell phone while driving is a distraction,” AAA’s Casey Devaney said. “It’s the conversation that causes the distraction, regardless of the type of device you’re using.”

But a number of people see the new law as a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a great idea; it helps people to be safe,” driver Jaime Cruz said.

Save for some minor concerns, drivers seem to agree that it’s a logical step for publice safety.

“It’s kind of going to be a hassle because everyone has to buy a bluetooth. Other than that it’s a good idea,” driver Nicole Compognl added.

The Washington State Patrol says for all drivers, adjusting to the new law banning hand-held cell phones on the road is worth the hassle.

“There are a lot of different things out there to distract drivers,” WSP Trooper Mark Baker said. “We’re trying to encourage drivers to be defensive, not distracted drivers.”

Using a bluetooth or other hands-free device is one way WSP hopes drivers will keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, not on the phone.

But will it make a difference? Of the 141,000 collisions in Washington last year, just 158 were tied to cell phone use. WSP says that number is under-reported. But AAA says this new law falls way short.

“We’re looking for stronger legislation,” Devaney said. “Banning the hand-held while allowing hands-free makes drivers feel safe when they have the same traffic risks.”

The law makes using a hand-held cell phone while driving a secondary offense. You’d have to be cited for something else first, but a ticket would cost you $124.  A similar, stricter law is also going into effect in California, though tickets there are cheaper.

WSP hopes that, by keeping drivers’ hands on the wheel, the new ban will save lives.

“When you’re distracted for a second to change a radio station, not looking down the road, that takes a second,” Baker said. “Everybody knows how long a cell-phone conversation can go on for.”