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Police issue nearly 50 tickets as result of new cell phone law

Those using their cell phones while driving are having to think twice as local police have been issuing citations since June 10.

Cell phone use was a secondary offense for motorists until that date. As of June 10, law enforcement has been given the authority to cite any driver talking on their cell phone without using a hands-free device or without using a speaker phone. It became a primary offense on that date.

Sunnyside police officers have written 21 citations for using a cell phone while driving through last Tuesday. The department hasn't yet determined if those numbers are more or less than prior to the law going into effect.

"We want to strongly remind people to use hands-free devices if they are talking on their cell phones," shared Sunnyside Police Department Public Information Officer Charlotte Hinderlider.

She said law enforcement officers, those wearing hearing aids and individuals calling 9-1-1 to report an emergency are exempt from the law, but there is a possibility those with hearing aids and calling 9-1-1 will be pulled over and questioned by law enforcement.

The law enforcement officer will then determine whether or not the individual will be cited, according to Hinderlider.

The Grandview Police Department, according to Assistant Police Chief Mark Ware, has issued 25 citations for cell phone use while driving since the new law went into effect.

That number is up from nine citations issued between Jan. 1, 2010 and June 9, 2010.

"We are seeing fewer people talking on cell phones while driving now, but it obviously does still continue," shared Ware.

He said it is important to note cell phone use is a distraction for drivers.

"Much has been written over the last few weeks about the distracted driving that cell phone use causes...it is absolutely true," shared Ware, stating a person's full attention is key to safe driving.

"While I have no statistics on actual accidents that occurred as a result of this (using a cell phone while driving), I personally have seen a number of near misses," he continued.

Ware acknowledges other driving distractions are common. But cell phone use, Ware said, was more common as it seems cell phones become more universal.

"Yes, you'll see an occasional driver doing other things to distract themselves...just because of sheer numbers (of cell phone users) cell phone use while driving was totally out of control," he explained.

Ware said the legislation prohibiting cell phone use while driving was common sense.

Both cities have noted there is not a grace period being given to drivers.

"Police are not giving warning on this new law. People need to be aware that use of your cellular phone when driving is dangerous and that they will be cited if they don't use a hands-free device," shared Hinderlider.

The Washington State Patrol, too, has taken a zero tolerance stance on the law.

Nearly 670 citations have been issued by troopers throughout the state in just 20 days.

In District Three, which includes Yakima and Benton counties, 84 motorists have been cited for using cell phones while driving. Troopers in the area have issued 41 warnings for the violation and one warning for texting while driving.

State Patrol Chief John Batiste believes compliance has increased since the violation has become a primary offense. He said drivers are making it easier for troopers by complying with the law.

"Those who continue to flout the law are now much easier to spot," he shared, adding the law is one driver's have had time to grow accustomed to since it was introduced as a secondary law.

For this reason, no grace period was given by the Washington State Patrol.

"Because the basic behavior has already been illegal for two years, troopers were told to enforce the new law in exactly the same way as every other violation," Batiste noted.

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