April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. To celebrate, Washington State Patrol is conducting "emphasis patrols" targeting this behavior on Washington roads. If you're traveling on highways that cross Bellingham, and that is pretty much all of us, then you've likely already passed an officer on the lookout for offenders.
What is distracted driving? There are a few ways to answer it.
Here's the definition, from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration):
Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.
In Washington, along with 49 of the other states (yep, that makes ALL of them) distracted driving is in some way illegal. Just two states prohibit only texting by novice drivers. Of the other 46 who are trying desperately to keep up with the insatiable demand for drivers to drive distracted, only five states require officers to find some other reason to pull over a driver first. So that means 46 states out of 50, Washington included, make it illegal to drive distracted even if you're not doing anything else wrong. Bellingham drivers, take heed: you'll dish out $124 for your ticket and consider yourself lucky for not having caused a deadly crash for your mistake.
Here are Washington's current laws on distracted driving. Scroll down the page about halfway to find all the links to the RCWs.
Doug Dahl, manager of Whatcom County's Target Zero Task Force, keeps a blog called The Wise Drive. In it, he writes:
Our distracted driving law is also evolving. Our first distracted driving law was passed in April of 2007 and put restrictions on texting or talking on a phone while driving. At that point our legislators couldn’t have imagined the shift that would take place only two months later, when Apple released the iPhone. By the time the law took effect in July of 2008, it was already out of date. The narrowly worded language led some interpreters of the law to conclude that while it ruled out texting, it didn’t prohibit checking your stocks online or playing Angry Birds while driving.
So there you have it, folks. Readers of this blog are in the know, which means only really needing to know one thing: Don't Drive While Distracted.
If you have strong thoughts about it, you may want to stoke the embers of our High School Scholarship Contest and win some money for your passion. To read more on why drivers aren't able to drive safely while on their phones, click here and learn about Inattention Blindness.