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WSP looks at texting drivers as cause of minor collisions

They don't have the numbers to back it up, but officials with the Washington State Patrol said they believe traffic-snarling accidents and low-speed crashes on state roadways are being caused by drivers who are texting.

“You and I are sitting in traffic, going nowhere, because someone ahead of us was texting,” said WSP Chief John R. Batiste.

“We think texting is a factor in far more of these minor collisions than we’ll ever be able to prove,” Batiste said.

WSP officials said objective data on texting-caused accidents is hard to come by, unlike the more certain statistical data the State Patrol has been able to gather over the years on the number of people killed by speeding drivers, impaired driving or the failure to wear a seat belt.

Texting-while-driving collisions can cause only minor property damage, and officials noted that traffic violations that lead to minor collisions are civil infractions, not crimes.

As such, it's harder for officers to cite texting as the true cause of the crashes.

“We do not have the legal authority to get search warrants for cell phone records in cases of minor collisions,” Batiste said. “Our priority in those cases is to get traffic moving again.”

Batiste said that texting while driving is risky behavior, and the State Patrol is again urging drivers to stay focused on the road.

State Troopers cited more than 1,000 drivers last year for texting at the wheel.

More than 6,600 drivers were cited for talking on their cell phones without using a hands-free device.

Offenders stopped for any cell phone violation can face a $124 fine. If the traffic violation results in a collision, additional fees could be added.

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