Cellphone use by Seattle drivers still a big problem

Cellphone use by Seattle driversIt happened again. Or, I should say, almost happened again. Or happened almost again.

A car making a right turn nearly clipped the dog and me as we were about to cross a street during our daily constitutional around the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle.

Fortunately, following the advice I have imparted here to others, even though we were in a marked crosswalk, I looked left before stepping out, then abruptly halted.

Besides the moving car running a stop sign, what I saw was a lone driver holding a cell phone to her ear, lips moving and not looking around much. It was the third time in a month that I nearly got whacked by a yakker in the ‘hood.

I counted at least four traffic violations: not stopping at a stop sign, not yielding the right of way to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, careless driving second degree and holding a cellphone to the ear while operating a vehicle. It’s the last offense I want to address.

Based on totally unscientific observations, I estimate that at any given time as many as a fifth of Seattle drivers on non-arterial neighborhood streets are talking on cell phones they hold. This is not confined to where I live. I see this all over the city, especially when I go out to referee youth soccer. My estimate is based on a mental count I keep from time to time as I move around on foot or behind the wheel and look at drivers. For me, it’s not unusual to see three or four violators in a row. This is far more frequent illegal cellphone use than I ever saw in the car-crazy Los Angeles area, where I lived for years before becoming New To Seattle in 2011.

With Seattle police missing in action in so many neighborhoods, I suppose these drivers think they can just get away with it so long as they’re off major drags. They’re right–except when something happens. According to Allstate Insurance, Seattle drivers are in the bottom seventh of the entire country in how often they are in vehicular accidents. I’m pretty sure that the out-of-control cellphone holding and use is a major factor. Three years ago driving a car, I was rear-ended by an insurance-free driver I’m pretty sure was chatting up his girlfriend when he failed to notice the traffic in front of him had stopped for a light.

Part of the problem may also be due to a quirk in Washington State law. Holding a cell phone to the ear or texting on one while operating a vehicle has been illegal since 2007. But other distracting cellphone actions by drivers are legal, including–amazingly–surfing the Web, emailing and using any app, not just a GPS.

Bills in the legislature to crack down have gotten little traction. So residents might reasonably think this is not a law enforcement priority. From what I have seen, it isn’t.

If I were more into video, I’d stand along a Seattle street and take close-ups of passing motorists chatting away. It wouldn’t take long to amass enough material for a YouTube-postable segment of shame. But for the time being, I can only offer my written words. Again.

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