Sometimes people need protection from themselves.
They know it’s a risk to use a cellphone while driving, but 71 percent of drivers statewide do it anyway, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
To help them stop, the state Legislature last week created a new law that will make it illegal to hold a phone, tablet or other electronic device while driving.
It had to be done.
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Common sense says the driver’s seat is no place for multitasking, yet people are so attached to their phones they are unable to resist using them, even when they know they shouldn’t.
So perhaps the fear of getting pulled over by a police officer or state trooper will help them make the safe decision to focus only on the road.
The new measure will fine people $136 the first time they are caught breaking the law, and $235 for a second offense. In addition, the first ticket can be reported to insurance companies, which could lead to higher rates like other traffic violations.
There were lawmakers who disagreed with such a harsh penalty for a first-time offender. But their position stayed in the minority.
Of all distractions, texting is considered among the most risky. That’s because it requires visual, manual and cognitive attention, according to FocusDriven, a nonprofit group sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
There is no way to be mentally aware of your driving when you are distracted in that way, according to the nonprofit.
New research also has discovered a phenomenon called “inattention blindness.” A study by the AAA found it can take drivers up to 27 seconds to refocus on the road after they look at a cellphone.
That perhaps is the justification for the low tolerance factor in the new law. It forbids people holding electronic devices even when they are stopped in traffic or at a red light.
So people who think it is OK to text behind the wheel if they are not moving will have to break that habit or face the consequences.
Last fall, the National Safety Council reported that in 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in auto accidents involving distracted drivers — and texting and driving was a primary contributor.
Many people may not realize a lot can happen in the 5 seconds they take their eyes off the road to send or receive a text. At 55 mph, those 5 seconds will take you the length of a football field.
Would you get in a car and drive that far that fast with a blindfold?
Of course not.
But that is exactly what it’s like when people focus on their phones instead of the highway.
The new law goes into effect in 2019, so people can start adapting now.
The best way to do this is to get rid of the temptation. Either turn off or silence your device before you get behind the wheel, and hide it out of reach if you have to.
There is something irresistible about the sound of a cellphone. When it rings or buzzes, it means someone is contacting us and we instinctively want to know why.
But responding while driving is not worth the gamble. It’s better to wait and return the message later than risk crashing and never responding again.