Monday, May 24, 2010

Talking and texting while driving is illegal, yet we still do it

It’s been illegal for a year now to talk and text while driving, yet we continue to do it. Just last night, on my way to a soccer game, I saw a surprising number of drivers with their hands and phones pressed against their ears illegally. The fact that it’s a secondary offense hasn’t stopped us. And even though June 10 looms on the horizon - when it becomes a primary offense - I’m worried that we’ll continue to do it.

I think we’ll continue to do it partly because of how the smart phone has revolutionized our lives. With camera, video and web access from virtually anywhere, we’ve all essentially become amateur reporters. We can report on anything, anytime. You wouldn’t believe how many tips we receive from drivers nowadays alerting us to problems on the road – crashes, congestion, storms, etc. A lot of it even appears to have come from behind the steering wheel. Take this picture for example, which we received through Twitter, of a crash on I-5 near Bellingham that happened when a freak hail storm slammed I-5.

Picture received from Twitter letting us know of crash on I-5
Something else I’ve noticed that concerns me is the alarming number of people checking into Foursquare while driving, like on the I-90/SR520 floating bridges, or at the Peace Arch border crossing. The list of check-in locations on our highways and ferries seems to grow by the day. If you’ve never heard of Foursquare, just know that it’s not the schoolyard game from elementary school.

While I’ve never used Foursquare, I’ll admit that I am guilty of talking/texting while driving (in my personal car and on my own time). I can think of two specific times last week when I answered the phone – once when my wife texted and another when the granite installers called. That doesn’t include the several times I checked e-mail at a stoplight. I know, shame on me.

Up until yesterday, I had assumed that it was okay to check my phone at a stoplight or while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. That was until I saw an article from the Seattle PI that said it was illegal. Even though your tires aren’t physically turning, you’re still behind the wheel and not paying full attention. Oh, and don’t assume that you can just pull the car over to the shoulder of the highway and answer the phone. It’s illegal to do that too.

Personally, I’m resolving to hang up and drive for your safety and mine. Unless I have a hands-free device, I’m not going to talk or text while driving. I’m just not going to do it, it’s not worth it.

From the agency’s perspective, we care more about your safety than the breaking news you send us from behind the wheel. We like to say, “Know before you go” to reinforce the idea that talking, texting, eating, drinking – all of it contributes to distracted driving. Do everyone a favor and please make sure that you’re using a hands-free device.

So what’s it going to take to convince us that we need to hang up and drive? I saw a compelling tweet not too long ago that encouraged people to look up their last call/text and question whether it was worth their life. I mean, really, what call is worth risking our life for?

So, will you join me and go hands free?


Dustin Terpening said...

I hadn't heard of Oprah's No Phone Zone or about her pledge until Teri (@TeriLinWA on Twitter) pointed it out to me. I thought I'd share it with the rest of you. There appears to be a lot of great information on her site:

Hollie said...

Wow, I use Foursquare a lot, but I'd never dream of trying to use it while driving. I'm saddened to learn people think a badge is worth the risk of causing a wreck.

I do sometimes answer the phone while I'm driving, most often because the person calling has information for me about the event I'm driving too, for instance a friend might call to say which picnic area they're at, at a park. If it's a text coming in, however, I don't read it until I'm stopped. I've never texted while driving, I don't see how anyone can do that and still claim to have even half their awareness left for the road.

Philip Blevens said...

You talk, I talk, we all talk becaue guess what? SOMETIMES ITS NOT DANGEROUS. Stop and go traffic, stopped at a light, waiting for a train, plenty of times that even texting doesn't substantially increase the risk of accidents. I WON'T be joining you in the emasculation the Oprah is proposing because...SHE'S NOT MY MOM. And she needs to quit acting as if she is. Talking on a cell phone is still less dangerous than reading, knitting, putting on makeup, or holding dogs on your lap. None of which have laws banning them. We didn't need this law.

If you can't talk on a cell phone while driving...then DON'T!

Naomi Pollack said...

I agree that texting, talking, eating, putting on makeup, etc. while driving is dangerous. Anything that distracts you is dangerous. Texting or reading email strikes me as particularly dangerous because you not only have to take your eyes off the road, you have to put some thought into what you're doing.

But studies have shown that hands free devices for talking on the phone have little to no impact on crash rates. The problem isn't talking, it's talking to someone who's not in the vehicle.

I'll start using a handsfree device when it's a primary offense to not do so, but I'm not going to trust in it to make me any safer.

Jon Pederson said...

I wonder if the new law will increase the level of danger as drivers try to text with their phone in their lap to not be seen; taking their eyes even farther off the road.

And what's the law about people pulling to the shoulder on I-5 to take a call? I've seen it several times; yesterday a guy nearly got rear-ended doing it.

It seems better to have the law directed at being stupid and not paying attention to the road, instead of creating a list of things that, depending on the circumstances, may or may not be dangerous.

James Lamb / tvjames said...

Can you ask Foursquare to remove those places as locations?

Or does the WSP have a Twitter account? Maybe they can post some @replies to people when they see them checking in somewhere they shouldn't be?

Dustin Terpening said...

We've tried to contact Foursquare but haven't had much luck reaching them.

As for WSP - I saw a Twitter account for them at one point, but that was quite some time ago and I'm not sure it gets used anymore.

Richard said...

What article in the Seattle PI claimed that checking one's phone at a stoplight or while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic was illegal? Is the article online?

The wording of SSB 6345.SL keeps the "moving motor vehicle" language of RCW 46.61.667/668.

Admittedly, RCW 46.04 doesn't have a definition for "moving"; if it did, would it include "stationary"?

Dustin Terpening said...

Here's the article that I was referring to:

Jeffrey said...

Here is a link to a great video that a Texas defensive driving company called Comedy Driving Inc is showing (
This was created by ATT for distracted drivers – it really hits home.
Please don’t watch this video while driving.

Dave Egger said...

The Foursquare issue nails the problem at the head, legislating texting and driving isn't going to solve the real problem - distracted driving. What's more, you can't really expect police to be able to make a dent in the number of distracted drivers by looking into their windows - it would be far more effective to couple an awareness campaign with stricter enforcement of existing traffic laws like swerving into another lane, or failing to signal or stop at a light. I wrote a blog about it here –

#I am at AT&T Employee, my opinions are my own

Mary said...

I worry about my kids texting while driving. I tell them not to but I know they do it anyways so I downloaded MMGuardian Parental Control for free from Google Play It locks my kids' phones when they try to text while driving so I know they are safe!

WSDOT comment policy

Post a Comment