Texting and driving patrols ramp up as risk increases heading into start of school

SEATTLE – Distracted driving accounts for more deaths on Washington roadways every year, and statistics show there is one group that gets hit the hardest – teens.

With school starting this week across the state, Washington State Patrol is cracking down on distracted driving. From parents to teens, they say they see offenders of all ages, using their cell phones while behind the wheel.

“I just did my first next-of-kin notification a couple months back, I’ll tell you that was probably one of the most awful experiences that I’ve had,” said Trooper James Maguire.

He was out on the streets on Sunday, patrolling for drivers under the influence and distracted drivers.

“If you get stopped, expect to get a ticket,” said Maguire.

He said after seeing accidents daily as a result of cell phone use in King County, he and other law enforcement officials are getting tough. They aren’t issuing warnings, because they know the dangers.

“You’re driving down the freeway at 60-65 mph and you’re not even looking at the roadway,” explained Maguire. “That’s incredibly dangerous and people don’t seem to realize how dangerous that is.”

Nationwide, law enforcement is getting creative when it comes to cell phone enforcement. In Maryland, the AP reports a cop dressed up like a homeless person at an intersection to catch distracted drivers. In two hours, they handed out more than 50 tickets to unsuspecting drivers.

In Washington, State Patrol is using techniques to keep kids and roadways safe. When hearing reports of buses being cut off by aggressive drivers, troopers boarded buses with students and watched themselves. “They coordinate with a motorcycle trooper,” said Maguire, “it’s highly effective.”

Jason Epstein is an attorney working inside Washington schools to get teens to stop texting and driving. He created TADD or Teens Against Distracted Driving.

“If my message is successful, it will actually mean less business for me,” he said. Epstein said he was compelled to reach out to teens to stop distracted driving after hearing reports in the news. He said thinking about his young son being injured is what prompted his organization.

TADD works to get teens to sign a pledge to not text and drive, he said it’s similar to MADD’s outreach.

“Now most kids that you talk to would say, ‘oh, I would never drink and drive,’ but they don’t realize texting is more dangerous if not as dangerous,” said Epstein.

He wants lawmakers to make texting offenses just as serious as that of a DUI. He said he knows the outcome can be the same, like law enforcement see every day.

“It’s the worst thing for any parent to hear their child isn’t coming home,” said Maguire.