Patrols seek drivers using cellphones; special enforcement to kick off Friday and continue until April 14

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OLYMPIA — Law enforcement will conduct special patrols looking for drivers using their cellphones while driving beginning Friday and continuing through April 14.

Agencies in Clallam and Jefferson counties will participate in the campaign against distracted driving.

Tickets are $136.

While many things can distract a driver, cellphones are the most dangerous, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

“Cellphones distract drivers differently than eating a hamburger or putting on makeup,” said Angie Ward, traffic safety commission program manager.

“Holding a phone in your hand takes your hand off the wheel. Reading or entering data into your phone takes your eyes off the road.

“The biggest problem is that it takes your mind away from the tasks of driving.”

Look but not see

“Cellphones cause crashes because they connect people to social and informational interchanges. A complex mental task creates a situation where a driver looks but doesn’t see,” Ward said.

It takes nearly 30 seconds after ending the call or text for a driver’s mind to return its focus to driving, according to a study, “Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile III,” by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

One in 10 drivers and one-third of pedestrians were distracted by cellphone use, according to two studies conducted by the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle.

“Taken together, this research has serious implications for people who think it’s safe to dial or send a text message at a stoplight,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, lead author of the Harborview studies.

“Even if drivers stop talking or texting before the light turns green, they still don’t take in all the important elements in their surroundings for another 30 seconds,” she said.

“Couple this with pedestrians who may also be distracted and it’s a recipe for a trip to the emergency room, or worse.”

During 2015’s total of 13 traffic deaths in Clallam and Jefferson counties, five involved some form of distracted driving, the traffic safety commission said.

Six injured people were transported to Harborview Medical Center by helicopter, and airlifts for two other victims were canceled because they died before the helicopter could arrive.

State law enforcement is joining a national campaign for the third consecutive year.

The extra patrols are part of Target Zero, which aims to end traffic deaths and serious injuries in Washington by 2030.

Brief inattention

“Driving is one of the most dangerous things that we do. It only takes a couple of seconds of inattention to ruin your or someone else’s life forever. Remember, safe driving is in your hands,” said Jim Borte, Target Zero manager.

One out of five deadly crashes and one out of three serious injury crashes happen at or near an intersection, Ward said.

For more information, see www.wtsc.wa.gov and www.targetzero.com.

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