Distracted driving emphasis patrols happening across Washington

More than 150 law enforcement agencies around the state are cracking down on distracted drivers.

Now through April 14, there will be increased patrols by Washington State Patrol and law enforcement in numerous cities across Washington.

It is illegal to hold a cellphone, access information or watch videos while driving, even if stopped in traffic or at a red light.

"I write a lot of tickets, but that's my job," Washington State Patrol Trooper Charles Schroeder told KIRO 7's Shelby Miller.

KIRO 7 rode along with Schroeder to see and spotted distracted drivers right away.

“He had no idea I was there and he crossed the lane dividers. Now, he doesn't even see my lights because he's still messing with his phone,” Schroeder said.

"A lot of people think, if they just say, ‘Oh, I was doing GPS,’ then that's OK,” Schroeder said.

Statewide, troopers wrote 11,890 E-DUI tickets last year. Statistics show, 381 were written by Schroeder. He gave out more than 100 more tickets than the trooper with the next highest citation total.

"I'm not out here to ruin anybody's life, I'm hopefully saving lives by stopping them," he said. "The research and the data shows that it's causing a lot of deaths and a lot of injuries from accidents."

The citation for a first offense $136 and $234 for the second if it occurs within five years of the first.

A November, 2018 Washington Traffic Safety Commission observational study showed while cellphone distraction decreased 40 percent from 2017 to 2018, other distractions such as eating, changing a radio station, or attending to pets or children have increased significantly.

"Drivers can dangerously lose their focus on other activities that shift their focus and full engagement from driving, which the E-DUI law calls 'dangerously distracted," Sara Wood, Target Zero Manager for south King County said.  "Any type of distraction increases crash risk.  Studies show that it can take nearly 30 seconds to regain your attention on the road after focusing on something else, even for just a few seconds."

Drivers can get a $99 ticket for those other distracted driving offenses, but this part of the law is a secondary offense, meaning a driver must be pulled over for another offense, such as a dangerous lane change, to be cited for such an activity, and the activity interfered with safe driving.

For instance, if an officer catches a driver being distracted while committing a standard traffic offense, such as running a stop sign because their coffee spilled, the driver could be cited.

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