Whether they’re texting, under the influence or preoccupied by the holidays, drivers are a danger to themselves and others unless they’re sober, alert and focused on the road.
That’s the word from Port Townsend Police Chief Michael
Evans and officer Bill Corrigan, who warned that any cell phone use that distracts drivers can have fatal consequences, regardless of the law.
“Technically, surfing the Net isn’t texting, and using the apps on your smartphone isn’t illegal,”
Evans said. “Although we can still hit you for distracted driving.”
“It can be hard to catch texters in the act, unless we see you looking down a lot,” Corrigan said. “Our SUVs do give us a higher vantage point, though.”
Corrigan noted that even those who are using their cell phones to talk rather than text need to do so with their hands free.
“You can’t just hold [the cell phone] in front of you when you talk,” said Corrigan, who recalled pulling one woman over for especially negligent driving Dec. 19. “She would look down for three or four seconds at a time, with both hands on her phone. She was driving with her knees.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Corrigan has found such ill-advised phone usage more common among younger drivers, and he’s waited for the law to catch up.
“It’s only been within the past three or four years that it’s become a primary violation,” Corrigan said. “If they’re being particularly dangerous, we can hit them for negligent driving, but that’s a higher legal standard.”
What hasn’t changed over the years is the fact that a car traveling at 30 miles per hour will cover 45 feet in distance in a single second.
“The number-one cause of vehicle collisions in Port Townsend is following too closely,” Corrigan said. “We have a large population of deer in town, and they can blend in easily. When the ferry comes in, the intersection at the Safeway can get backed up pretty far, and you’ll have two or three cars rear-ending each other, because they’re not used to stopping so soon.”
Corrigan acknowledged that the hectic pace of holiday errands can leave many motorists fixated on anything other than the task of driving their cars.
“I hear from people all the time, who were upset or arguing in the car or late for appointments, that they hadn’t even been thinking about the fact that they were in school zones,” Corrigan said.
And while it’s not uncommon for drivers to imbibe too much during the holiday season, Corrigan reminded the public that marijuana, like other legal drugs, becomes grounds for a DUI arrest if taken before driving.
“You cannot be an impaired driver, especially during the holidays,” Evans said. “Kids are going to be out of school and playing with their presents, many of them outside. There are going to be a lot more drivers and pedestrians on the road, as local residents get visits from their families.”
Corrigan added that this winter has been significantly colder than Port Townsend natives are used to, so to avoid sliding on patches of slick ice, motorists should watch their speed.
If and when drivers are pulled over by law enforcement, Corrigan advises them to keep their hands visible until they’re asked to produce documents, rather than reaching for their licenses, registration and insurance forms beforehand.
“Sometimes, I’ll approach a vehicle in a direction the driver might not be used to, such as the passenger side, to see what they’re up to,” Corrigan said. “Fortunately, this is a fairly safe community, but I don’t necessarily know that I’m not pulling over someone from outside of the community.”
Corrigan recommended avoiding risk as much as possible on the roads.
“Don’t rely on the assumption that other drivers won’t hit you,” Corrigan said. “Yield the right of way.”
As a former instructor of AARP’s safe driving courses, Corrigan pointed out that Jefferson County has the oldest average age in the state, and warned that older drivers can often fail to judge closing speeds and distances.
“All of these are reasons why you have to prioritize the act of driving when you’re behind the wheel,” Corrigan said. “If you have a passenger, let them be your navigator. If you don’t, consider getting a GPS. We don’t have quotas for numbers of arrests here. I just want to gain compliance to ensure public safety.”