Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Compliance With Toughened Distracted Driving Law Needs Improvement

Kevin Mooney
Northwest News Network
Oregon and Washington have both enacted laws banning the use of electronic devices while driving.

Tough new laws against handling a cell phone behind the wheel  took effect in Washington and Oregon this year. Each state’s legislature made it illegal to drive while holding an electronic device for most any reason.

The laws cover phones, tablets, video games and the like.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission got a peek at behavior changes through a private company's smartphone app. TrueMotion makes a voluntarily-downloaded app that takes advantage of a smartphone's motion sensors to record when a person interacts with their phone while driving.

The commission's Shelly Baldwin said at a state Senate committee briefing Monday that app data shared by TrueMotion showed a dip in distracted driving during a two week burst of publicity when the new law started on July 23.

"However, they see that it has gone pretty much back up to what it was before,” she said. "So we're looking forward to January when we (begin) enforcing."

Washington State Patrol Captain Monica Alexander said troopers have stopped nearly 5,000 drivers since July for distracted driving violations, but most got away with just a warning during the six month "educational period" phase in of the toughened law. Alexander said her stats just cover the State Patrol; city officers have their own enforcement approaches.

Washington Senate Transportation Committee Chair Curtis King said he observed drivers holding phones to their ears at least three times on his Sunday drive to Olympia from his hometown of Yakima.

"We have a ways to go," King said. "I will admit I am as guilty as anybody, but we need to keep working at it because it is vitally important."

Oregon's new distracted driving law took only effect on October 1, so it's too soon to assess.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.