Loophole found in new cell phone law

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @LByronK5

KING5.com

Posted on June 7, 2010 at 6:53 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 7 at 6:53 PM

SEATTLE - It wasn't a drunk driver that killed 19-year-old Heather Lerch of Tumwater in February. Her parents believe she was texting while driving. Her car was smashed beyond recognition.

"I think about her every day,” said her father, Dan Lerch. “I never stop thinking about her. It shouldn't have happened."

State Trooper Keith Leary says he pulls over motorists all the time who are swerving like drunks, but are just distracted by their phones.

"So many people's attention is taken away with their phone, whether they have to hold it up to their ear or cradle it with their shoulder,” he said.

On June 10, it will become a primary offense to text, e-mail or talk on the phone while driving -- meaning you can be pulled over and ticketed without another reason for the stop. But there is an exception some critics call a dangerous loophole.

You will still be able to talk away on your cell phone as long as it's connected to a hands-free device or on speaker and not held up to your ear. The reason for that exception: so that long-haul truckers and taxis can talk on their CB’s and handheld radios.

But critics fear cell phone users will exploit that exception.

We asked citizen activist Lowell Weiss, who helped push through the new law, his perspective.

"There's been no state in the country that has yet banned all cell phone use, and so we don't think that is remotely feasible to do,” Weiss said.

Weiss hopes the new law, plus a campaign educating drivers about the dangers of any cell phone use, will encourage people to just hang up!

"It’s not safe to be talking on a cell phone, whether it’s hands-free or hand-held,” Weiss said.

On average, 152 people lose their lives every year in Washington in crashes connected to distracted driving. And the numbers are rising.

If you get a ticket, the price is $124. If your cell phone use contributes to a collision, you can also be charged with negligent driving, and that will cost you $550.

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