Ever been behind the wheel and the driver in front of you does something really ridiculous — such as not moving when the light turns green, or coming to a near-stop in the middle of traffic for no apparent reason?
You usually can chalk this up to one of three reasons: either the person is very, very elderly (in which case you can cut them some slack, because all of us could be there one day); or the slow or uncertain-looking driver in front of you is a tourist (which also earns them some currency in the slack department, since they have bothered to visit our fair city in the first place); or the person is on a cell phone.
In which case, those individuals deserve no slack whatsoever, because they are inconsiderate to the point where they’re bound and determined to have their little texting or phone communication no matter what (which goes without saying is always a matter of vast national importance).
Their selfish behavior also is putting the safety of others at risk — not unlike an alcohol- or a drug-impaired driver who gets behind the wheel.
Well, fortunately, Washington has gotten it right where the use of electronic devices by motorists is concerned. No, I don’t mean the federal government in our nation’s capital or the city of Washington, D.C., itself, which still maintain their lowly presence as The Swamp.
I’m talking about Washington state, which not only is part of the great and beautiful Pacific Northwest, but has had the good sense to pass a tough new law attacking electronic distracted driving. Or as officials in the Evergreen State have dubbed it, DUI-E — driving while under the influence of electronics.
Under the new law that went into effect Sunday, motorists who get caught using their cell phones or any other electronic device while in the driver’s seat, even if they aren’t moving, will be hit with a hefty fine. This means no reading of incoming text messages while driving, or watching videos while stuck in traffic or sitting at a stoplight.
They will have to fork over $136 for the first offense and $235 for each subsequent one.
The measure makes it explicitly illegal to employ an electronic device that requires the use of more than one touch of a finger, which applies to tablets, laptops, games and any other piece of hand-held electronica.
Another good thing about the new law in Washington state is that driving while using electronics is treated as a “primary” offense rather than a “secondary” one.
A secondary offense involves practices police normally might overlook. But if someone is stopped for something else or is involved in an accident and an officer finds out they were doing one of those things, a ticket could be issued.
The fact that the DUI-E law in Washington state is a primary offense, on the other hand, means police can pull a driver over if they witness that person fiddling around with a cell phone. (If it’s any consolation, the use of phones and other electronic devices will still be allowed through “the minimal use of a finger” to activate, deactivate or initiate a function of a personal electronic device while operating a vehicle.)
One of the reasons I am praising the state of Washington so heartily today is that while others, including North Carolina, have banned texting while driving, none have gone to the lengths Washington has. Its law recognizes that the danger involves much more than texting.
Washington is being hailed as a pacesetter for the rest of the nation in addressing a problem others have stopped short with — probably because of the massive, politically influential industry that has emerged with the popularity of smartphones.
I must admit there are other distractions that can impair a person’s abilities while operating a car, of which I’ve been guilty on occasion. Several times when tuning in a radio station, or trying to figure out how to make the windshield wipers work at the right speed, I have nearly run off of the road.
It makes you realize that only a split-second of inattention can mean the difference between life and death.
Unfortunately, the use of electronic devices while behind the wheel is part of a larger, more wholesale issue that has involved our society allowing itself to be captivated — enslaved, really — by the cell phone industry.
You can’t do anything about people constantly texting while walking down the street and being mindlessly oblivious to everything going on around them — but you can sure keep them from doing so while they are driving.
So I’d like to see North Carolina man up and follow Washington state’s lead.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.