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Ask A Trooper: What Are the Laws About Talking on a Cellphone While Driving?

Washington State Patrol District 1 spokesperson and recruiter Guy Gill answers your questions about the rules of the road.

Q: What are the laws about talking on a cell phone while driving? And why is it OK for Troopers to talk on their cell phones without a headset, when I can't?

A: The law is, you cannot have a phone up to your ear—it has to be through a speaker or Bluetooth. There are some exceptions to that, however: if you’re hearing impaired, or reporting an emergency. If you're caught talking on your cell phone while driving, it's a primary offense.

If you’re a law enforcement officer on your cell phone, it usually means you’re summoning aide. In the State Patrol, we try to keep that to a minimum. If we’re talking on the phone, it’s a necessary task to perform our job.

It's the same with texting. I don’t do it when I drive, it's illegal.

Distracted driving in general is big cause of collisions. We see collisions when people are doing something inside their vehicle other than focusing on driving--using an iPod or iPad, changing a CD or radio station... eating. Whatever keeps you from doing your task is considered distracted driving and against the law.

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Trooper Guy Gill is the Washington State Patrol recruiter and spokesman for District 1, covering Pierce and Thurston counties. Follow him at @wspd1pio on Twitter. 

What have you always wanted to ask a state patrol officer? Tell us in the comments.

Bob Martinek February 06, 2013 at 05:12 PM
When in the passing lane and a car to one's right is pacing with one's car at maximum speed limit, speed up to move right or slow down and impede traffic to move right?
Greg Johnston (Editor) February 06, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Texting while driving is even worse, I hate to see that, but do pretty often.
Fred Armstrong February 06, 2013 at 05:31 PM
Any "distracted driving" is a violation.
Tom Pessemier February 06, 2013 at 06:17 PM
I thought you couldn't text while driving either? Can you get more specific please? Thank you for the great information!
Stacia Whatley February 06, 2013 at 06:23 PM
In the past few weeks I have seen several troopers on their cell phones while driving! Until they stop talking on their phones why should I? They are not above the law!!!'
Bob Chapman February 06, 2013 at 06:40 PM
On several occasions I have observed both WSP and KCS deputies using the HOV lane on hwy 167 tho go home to Bonney Lake,what's up with that?
Lisa Baumann (Editor) February 06, 2013 at 07:35 PM
Just found this link: Most people believe they can multitask effectively, but a University of Utah study indicates that people who multitask the most – including talking on a cell phone while driving – are least capable of doing so. http://unews.utah.edu/news_releases/frequent-mulitaskers-are-bad-at-it/
Lauren Padgett (Editor) February 06, 2013 at 08:06 PM
I've added Trooper Gill's comments about text messaging and distracted driving to this column. I was going to hold it for a separate item because of it's importance, but I think it makes sense to talk about it in relation to the topic here. Bottom line, we've all seen crazy stuff people do on the freeway and the tragic accidents that happen as a result. Stay focused on the road and less accidents will occur!
Beverly Santarelli February 06, 2013 at 10:41 PM
Is it okay to talk on your cell phone or text if you are sitting at a red light??
Daniel Nash February 06, 2013 at 11:05 PM
I've read about similar research before. It's interesting: multitasking is one of the only skills that become worse with practice. Something to do with the constant stress placed on the parts of the brain responsible for attention.
northernlights February 13, 2013 at 01:47 AM
i saw a police officer talking on his cell phone one time and i wil tell you this much. whoever that officer was talking too, the person on the other end sure was making him smile from ear to ear!!! looked like monkey business to me. LOL
Leesa Lynch February 14, 2013 at 02:35 AM
Want to know if a commercial driver has a larger fine for talking on the cell phone and why it is illegal to talk on a 2 way and is a cb classified as a 2 way?
Ron Olson February 14, 2013 at 03:00 AM
What position does the WSP and local cops take on "Open carry" of handguns by non-felons?
dexterjibs February 14, 2013 at 03:16 AM
I can multi-task with greatness. Talking on the cell phone while driving is no different than talking to a passenger inside the vehicle.
Federico Nava February 14, 2013 at 04:44 AM
Dexterjibs, I'd like to see your words backed up by a clinical study of your "greatness". I'd be interested in seeing the results.
dexterjibs February 14, 2013 at 04:48 AM
Relax Federica, you don't need a clinical study. You are getting it straight from the source. No accidents on my record in 30 years of driving. No tickets. I talk on my cell phone and drive safely at the same time. Just like when you talk to passengers in your car without getting in an accident. Trust me Federica, I am that good.
Federico Nava February 14, 2013 at 05:26 AM
I'm completely relaxed, Dorxter. Though I'd tend to trust an independent study more than merely you're words, Dickster, maybe you've just been lucky for the last 30 years.
dexterjibs February 14, 2013 at 05:56 AM
Now Federica, why the hateful rhetoric? Hateful rhetoric never fed a starving child. But I know I fed a starving child when I was driving and talking on my cell phone ordering a pizza. And I got home safely, hung up the phone and fed my face too.
Federico Nava February 15, 2013 at 02:20 AM
Dipster, you're truly an artist!
dexterjibs February 15, 2013 at 07:01 AM
Federico, you have a great day! It was fun.
stephanie February 20, 2013 at 10:01 AM
stacia, you stop talking on your cell phone or you get a ticket. try fighting it in court. you will lose if you go in with, "well i see officers talking on their cells while driving all the time." it's not gonna get you out of a ticket. didn't your parents ever tell you "do as I say, not as I do"? same thing. stop taking on your phone while driving bc it's the law.
Owen Applequist February 26, 2013 at 07:53 AM
So if officers are able to use their phone while driving for official business does that mean they have received training or education on how to do so safely?

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