New WA cell phone law now in effect - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

New WA cell phone law now in effect

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Law enforcement agencies across Washington state began checking drivers on Thursday to see if they were holding a phone to their ear or texting as both became a primary offense.

For two years, you could be cited for either if you were already pulled over for another violation. As of midnight, a driver will now receive a $124 ticket regardless of whether they are cited for any other reason.

There are exceptions to the new rule, use of a hands-free device or the speakerphone option are acceptable. Also, if a driver needs to make an emergency call that will not lead to a ticket.

Lt. Jim Keightley of Washington State Patrol says the safest plan is to stop driving and finish talking on the phone because it is the conversation itself that concerns him most.

"The distraction gets bigger as you [start] holding something in your hand or holding it up to your ear," he said. "The whole reason behind the law is the fact that we want your attention focused on your driving at all times."

In the period the law was a secondary offense, WSP says they cited around 200 people in the South Central region of the state and very few were for texting.

Keightley says that is because it is hard for agencies to enforce texting and they will only pull over drivers that are clearly violating that rule.

"We're not gonna' stop cars because we think they're texting," he said. "If we know they're texting, we see the phone in their hand, absolutely they're gonna be stopped and get a ticket."

Agencies also want to remind drivers that while pulling over to the shoulder is the right idea to finish a phone call, it is illegal to do so on most major freeways unless you are having an emergency.