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WSP obstacle course challenges talking, texting drivers

Jordan Hutson spent the day last week driving the course at the Shelton WSP office while trying  to talk on a  cell phone. - Jesse Beals/ Staff Photo
Jordan Hutson spent the day last week driving the course at the Shelton WSP office while trying to talk on a cell phone.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/ Staff Photo

Jordan Hutson, 18, admits he talks on his cell phone while driving.

The Washington State Patrol (WSP) put the recent high school grad’s skills to the test earlier this week.

Hutson was one of five young drivers who took to the roughly 4-mile-long course at the WSP Academy in Shelton on Monday morning to test how talking on a cell phone affects a person’s driving ability.

As of July 1, talking on a cell phone or sending text messages while driving will be illegal. Motorists will be required to wear a hands-free set or use their phone’s speakerphone function while driving in Washington state.

“Legislation has determined driving while talking on the cell phone has caused several collisions,” WSP Trooper Brandy Kessler said. “A person talking on a cell phone is equivalent to a .08 drunk driver.”

Driving while talking on a cell phone will be a secondary infraction, meaning police cannot pull over motorists for talking on cell phones alone. Drivers must have committed some other offense to be cited under the new law.

“Any type of distraction in the car is a problem,” Kessler said, “so when you’re driving you need to be driving.”

Hutson volunteered to participate in the state patrol’s experiment last week.

Hutson, along with the four other young people, drove their own vehicles around the State Patrol’s driving course while first talking on their cell phones and then sending text messages.

“I think I’ll do fine. I’m a pretty good driver,” Hutson said before he drove the course.

The test included a 60-mph zone that simulated freeway driving, a 35-mph area, a few turns, a construction zone and a simulated country road.

The five drivers did not see the course beforehand.

With a WSP driving course instructor telling him where to turn, Hutson drove the course while chatting on his cell phone. He crossed the double yellow line frequently, drove on the shoulder and almost ran through a stop sign while gabbing away on his cell phone.

“I’m sure I broke several traffic laws while driving and talking on the cell phone,” Hutson said afterward. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s easier to drive if you’re not multitasking.”

After a short break, Hutson, who rarely sends text messages, again got behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Jetta to send and receive text messages while driving the course.

He again drove on the shoulder and crossed over the double yellow line on occasion. Hutson also drove 20 miles per hour under the posted 60-mph speed limit while sending and receiving text messages.

“It was probably a little harder than I thought it would be,” he conceded.

Hutson said looking away from the road to his phone was distracting and greatly impacted his driving ability.

“Your attention is not strictly on the road,” Hutson said. “You’re looking at two different places. You’re not putting your full attention to driving.”

Hutson added that talking on cell phones is not the only distraction motorists face on a daily basis.

“If it’s not texting or talking on the phone, it’s eating or something else,” he said. “You could potentially be putting yourself or other people in danger.”

Hutson said he plans to purchase a hands-free set to use while driving and the WSP experiment opened his eyes to just how much the new law is needed to keep motorists safe behind the wheel.

“This definitely gave me more respect for this particular law,” he said.

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