Thursday, December 6, 2012

Texting While Driving Turns Sneaky

I've been thinking a lot about prohibitions since my fellow Washingtonians voted to legalize marijuana. Effective today State law allows anyone 21 or over to have up to an ounce on them...but they can't smoke in public.

While smoking pot may have its own implications on driving safety, it's not what keeps running through my mind right now. Decades ago, making cannabis illegal led to an incredible black market for it. Just like it did with alcohol during Prohibition. Back then, it was how fortunes were made. Al Capone and his mob ruled. And in more modern times, the war on drugs has made for some powerful cartels and corruption in governments around the world.

As well meaning as it may be, prohibition doesn't seem to work very well. Prohibition of alcohol. Prohibition of cannabis. Prohibition of just about anything . . . I'm pretty sure it's because people are rebellious by nature and if you tell them what to do then they may just do the opposite. But they don't stop there, they also give demand for a black market trade to develop. There are a couple parts to human nature that transcend political, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries. First, people are rebellious. And second, they're notorious for their creativity in finding ways to get around laws.

So what about the prohibition of holding a cell phone to your ear or texting while driving? Have the number of fatalities on our roads decreased since we made our anti-cell phone laws? Do the laws actually save lives? It'd be great if the answer was yes. But it's not. It's "we don't know."

In 2010 the way distracted driving statistics were collected changed so that cell phone use as a distraction factor is now counted by itself  instead of being grouped with the others. The 2011 numbers haven't been released to the public yet so we can't even do a two year comparison. NHSTA calculates that in 2010 there were 3,092 crash deaths due to texting and cell phone use while driving. That's a lot. But it's not the 10,228 that alcohol had.

I see drivers on cell phones every day. It still amazes me because they don't make any effort to hide what they are doing. When I'm at stop lights or on the freeway I frequently see drivers texting. These drivers are a lot sneakier than the phone users. Texters used to have their phones up high on the steering wheel ... so even though what they were doing was risky, at least they had some peripheral vision or general idea about traffic conditions.

Now that it's illegal, hand-held devices have been lowered below the window line.Yikes! Reading a message in your lap cuts out any peripheral vision a driver would have had if the phone were higher. It's like driving blind.

So what's the solution? The fact is that most drivers are able to manage their daily distractions without being involved in a collision. They don't crash every day. Or every year for that matter.

Should law enforcement focus on dangerous driving maneuvers that were actually committed (like drifting out of their lane, speeding, tailgating, etc.) or continue to micro-manage distractions that may or may not result in a collision? Is the ban on cell phones enough? Should we also ban eating, looking at a map or GPS or adjusting the audio system? How about talking to passengers or driving children around?

What if anti-cell phone laws were put in place like drunk driving laws? So a person had to be over 21 (or have a driver's license for at least 5 years) to use their phone or engage in other distractions.

Maybe we should make our driving test more difficult. As is, it takes less than 15 minutes and tests our ability to not crash. Why not test a driver's ability to drive well? And throw in a distracted driving element, too. Why not be true to real life and test how well someone drives with a baby crying in the back seat, adjusting the radio at least once and changing the air flow from the dash to the floor? And the examiner should come equipped with questions for the test taker to answer just to prove that they can talk and drive safely at the same time. The test should definitely include the freeway and busy city driving. And looking for an address in an unknown city. Not all of these suggestions are practical, but oooh imaging the possibilities is so fun!

What do you think? Does the cell phone ban work? Is there a better way than our current system to approach traffic safety? What will it take to get traffic fatalities down to zero?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Avoid DOL Wait Times With 5 Simple Steps

Washington's recent changes to the process of getting your driver's license can be a little tricky to navigate at first but they should also save you time by not waiting weeks on end for a road test appointment. For most applicants, the testing facility will be closer to home, which gives an added convenience.  

In order to address lengthy Department of Licensing wait times, the State Legislature approved a bill which allows approved driving schools the ability to act as third-party testers. Defensive Driving School now offers drive test appointments, many within a few days.

The DOL created a new online database (License Express), which gives the public not only an ability to manage their driver's license or ID card, vehicles and addresses online but also a way to avoid a physical trip into their office. Driving school employees also access the system to insert test scores for driver license applicants. 

So what do you need to do to use our testing services and minimize trips to the DOL? 

If you already have a learner's permit:
  1. Register for License Express on the DOL's website. At the end of the process, you will be given a PIC # (Personal Identification Code) which is a combination of letters and numbers. Write this number down as it will be required to enroll in both Knowledge or Skills test.
  2. Study the Washington Driver Guide to prepare for the Knowledge Test.  Take our practice test here with your smart phone.
  3. Pass the Knowledge Test. Register for the test on our secure website. We accept Visa and MasterCard payments. When we receive your order, our office will call you to set up a testing appointment for you. (If you do not already have a learner's permit, you can go to the DOL the day after you take the knowledge test with us and get one.)
  4. Practice driving every day. Drive so often that your confidence and skill will overcome any test anxiety that may hit you. 
  5. Pass the on-road Skills Test. Register for your on-road Skills Test and our office staff will help you schedule a convenient test time at the location of your choice. If you need an appointment as soon as possible, we often have weekday openings between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm in our Bellevue location.

The final step in getting your driver's license, which cannot be totally eliminated is:

Go to the DOL office nearest you to complete the Licensing application process.  This includes paying an application fee, having your picture taken and receiving your license.  Some documents you will need to bring include:

    1. Proof of Identity,
    2. Traffic Safety Course Certificate (if applicant is 16 or 17 years old)
    3. Social Security Number (actual card not necessary),
    4. Proof of Residency.

If you do not already have a learner's permit and are enrolled in driver's education, we will provide you with a test waiver (handed out on the first day of class) for you to take to the DOL. You will need to show the waiver, along with your identification, birth certificate, proof of residency and parental permission to get a permit.

Additional Training
If you would like to take advantage of our training services, please visit our website for a list of our locations and class information.

Best wishes as you prepare for a lifetime of ticket and collision-free driving. 
Defensive Driving Is NO Accident!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When can you talk on the phone while driving?

We all know that driving while talking with a phone to your ear is illegal in Washington. But, did you know that there are exceptions to this rule?
  1. The law doesn't apply to authorized emergency vehicles. RCW 46.61.667 states that a person operating a motor vehicle while holding a wireless communications device to his or her ear is guilty of a traffic infraction. However, the law doesn't apply to authorized emergency vehicles or tow trucks responding to disabled vehicles. Don't be alarmed if you see a police man chatting away with his phone to his ear.
  2. You can talk on your phone if it's in hands-free mode. RCW 46.61.667 does not apply to a person using a communications device in hands-free mode. Set your phone to speaker mode and you're good to go.
  3. The law doesn't apply to you in certain emergency situations. RCW 46.61.667 states that the law does not apply to people who are using their phones to:
  • Report illegal activity
  • Summon medical or other emergency help
  • Prevent injury to a person or property
  • Relay information that is time sensitive between a transit or for-hire operator and that operator's dispatcher, in which the device is permanently affixed to a vehicle
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