Driving? Don’t touch that cell phone

Drivers on the Kitsap Peninsula should be prepared for a new law governing distracted driving, specifically the use of handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle

POULSBO — Drivers on the Kitsap Peninsula should be prepared for a new law governing distracted driving, specifically the use of handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.

In April, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 5289, which modifies current distracted driving laws to cover a wider variety of electronic device uses and activities with few exceptions.

Some activities, such as texting while driving, are already illegal in Washington; but the new law expands the definition of “personal electronic device” to include tablets and laptops. The bill also bans the practice to using an electronic device while stopped in traffic or at a red light.

And the new law will be here sooner than expected.

In May, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed section 5 of the bill, which states the act goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. Inslee found fault with this — in his veto message found on the state website, Inslee said “public safety is better served by implementing the bill this year.”

Instead, it is expected the law will begin to be enforced on approximately July 23, according to a report in The Seattle Times.

Here in Kitsap County, local police forces are preparing for the revised mandate from the state.

Port Orchard Police Chief Geoffrey Marti said whenever traffic laws change, there is usually a period for officers to ensure drivers are fully aware of new regulations, and leaves it to the officer’s discretion as to whether or not to issue a warning or write a ticket.

“Normally, for a new traffic infraction like this, you’re going to have a period of time where you’re stopping and educating the public within your own jurisdiction,” Marti said.

Marti believes enforcement of the new law will go smoothly, despite the significantly shortened timeline for implementation.

The chief expects that city officers will focus on its more dangerous thoroughfares, including the section of Route 160 between the exit from Route 16 and Bethel Avenue where 25 percent of all motor vehicle accidents in Port Orchard occur. Many of those accidents can be chalked up to “some kind of inattention,” Marti said.

“The problem is it’s inherent within some people that they have to respond right away when they get a message,” said Marti.

In Poulsbo, Police Chief Dan Schoonmaker echoed his Port Orchard counterpart’s comments that officers should be on the lookout for distracted drivers and make traffic stops whenever necessary to inform motorists of the new laws.

“Anything we can do — the whole goal is to make the roads safer,” Schoonmaker said. “The one truth I’ve always found in law enforcement is that the more traffic stops the drivers see, usually accidents goes down with that.”

Schoonmaker said he has personal experience in losing a mentor because of a distracted driver. His former police chief in Westminster, California was killed by a motor vehicle while riding his bicycle, just a few months after he retired.

“Distracted driving, in my experience as a law enforcement officer, is a serious problem,” Schoonmaker said.

Mark Krulish is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at mkrulish@soundpublishing.com.

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