State House bill may double fines for texting while driving in school zones

By Brandon Gustafson | Feb 06, 2019

Since April 2016, the Mukilteo Police Department has issued 29 tickets for texting while driving.

Of those, three occurred in school zones – one near Olympic View Middle School and two in Harbour Pointe.

Those tickets could soon hurt your wallet a lot more.

A proposed bill in the state’s House of Representatives would double the fine for motorists caught using a cellphone in a school, playground or crosswalk speed zone to up to $234 per infraction, or up to $468 for repeat offenders.

Currently, the fine is $136 according to Chris Perisho, Mukilteo Police Department’s traffic officer. Secondary offenders are slapped with a $234 ticket.

“You see a lot more violations than you can do anything about,” Perisho said, noting the difficulty in ticketing those driving the opposite way, as well as seeing offenders while giving other citations, and seeing violations while off-duty.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 injured in distracted driving-affected accidents in 2015, although it’s not clear how many of those happened in school zones.

The bill would require half of the fines collected be deposited in a school zone safety account.

“It was initially a secondary offense,” Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang said of texting while driving. Now, it is a more serious offense, and is dubbed “E-DUI.”

After a six-month grace period, officers across the state started heavily enforcing the new law at the beginning of 2018.

The E-DUI law states that drivers may not use handheld cellphones while driving, while stopped in traffic, or at a stoplight.

In addition to cellphones, it includes tablets, laptops, games or other handheld electronic devices. Additionally, drivers cannot watch movies while driving.

Use of a device is limited to a single touch or swipe, and phones or devices should be placed in a dock.

Law enforcement agencies have suggested that drives plug in routes or destinations in GPS, as well as start their music, before driving.

Mukilteo has three major school zones within city limits. There’s one on the Mukilteo Speedway near Olympic View and Mukilteo Elementary; one on Harbour Pointe Boulevard near Kamiak High School, Harbour Pointe Middle School, and Columbia Elementary; and another on Harbour Pointe Boulevard for Endeavour Elementary. There are also spots in more residential areas that are part of school zones, such as in the Goat Trail area behind Olympic View.

“We get probably three to four complaints a day from crossing guards and bus drivers about drivers driving around buses while their sign is out, or drivers not stopping for crosswalks,” Perisho said.

Kang said that the bulk of calls his department receives are regarding traffic, be it congestion, an accident, or, many times, drivers on their cellphones or driving erratically in school zones.

“We have two state highways and the busiest ferry system in the state in terms of cars entering and leaving the terminal,” Kang said. “With the addition of the new ferry terminal, and the flights at Paine Field, that traffic load isn’t going to decrease.”

Kang said Perisho’s hours, along with many other officers, are built around school zone times.

“It hopefully deters folks from trying to get somewhere faster, or to get them off their phone,” Kang said.

The bill’s primary sponsor is Rep. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek). Lovick is a former Washington State trooper, as well as a former officer with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

“If we can’t keep our children safe in our communities and their schools, I don’t think there’s anything else we’re going to do in this world that’s going to matter” said Lovick. “This is just an opportunity to keep our children safe.”

Kang, for one, says the bill is a step in the right direction.

“It’s an interesting bill. We see headlines far too often of people getting hurt or killed,” he said. “One of many things this would do would be keeping our kids safe.”

Kang said his department only has so many uniformed officers at one time, but that they will continue to use public education to keep drivers from texting while driving in general, but especially in school zones.

“There’s always the blue and red lights to deter people from doing what they shouldn’t,” Kang said, with a laugh.

If passed, the new fines would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

 

Sean Harding of the WNPA Olympia News Bureau contributed with this report.

 

 

 

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