It’s been more than two years since Washington state cracked down on distracted driving. The state imposed a hefty fine — between $136 and $234 — for those caught with a smartphone or electronic device in their hands while driving. It’s even against the law to engage your smartphone while waiting at a traffic light.

Yet, it’s clear that a great many ignore the law. Spending five minutes at any intersection in downtown Walla Walla and you will witness a parade of distracted-driving scofflaws with cellphones in hand.

These folks might believe what they are doing is harmless, or simply that they are better drivers than the rest of us, but the facts dispute that. Numerous studies have been done that show a driver’s reaction time when using the cellphone or texting at about the level of a drunk. Traffic deaths were up 20 percent in 2015 from 2014. Distracted driving seems to be the root of the problem.

Given the lack of good judgment used by these smartphone-using drivers, we applaud Walla Walla County law enforcement agencies for cracking down on distracted driving this month.

In addition, law enforcement will also focus on ensuring that drivers are wearing seat belts.

“While the majority in Walla Walla County routinely buckle up, we are concerned about the 18 percent who are not and could be seriously injured in a traffic collision,” said Nancy McClenny-Walters, coordinator for the regional Traffic Safety Coalition. She said current statewide statistics show an average buckle-up rate of 93 percent, but  volunteers for the Walla Walla County Traffic Safety Coalition determined the the local use rate is just 82 percent.

That’s concerning. Seat belts save lives. That’s been proven over and over again.

And they help keep health-care and insurance costs down. Seat-belt use has been estimated to save at least $50 billion a year from costs associated with injuries and deaths. The use of seat belts is a huge plus for taxpayers because the public would have ended up supplementing much of those costs.

Local police and Sheriff’s Office patrols will be focusing on distracted driving and seat-belt use. Overtime funding for the patrols comes from a grant provided from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

The Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office, Walla Walla Police Department, College Place Police Department and Washington State Patrol are participating.

Those who are pulled over are likely to be irked, complaining that police should be focusing on “real crimes.”

Well, distracted driving is a real crime that does lead to death and serious injury.

And the life saved by being ticketed for distracted driving might just be that driver.

This month-long crackdown is welcome. 

Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin's Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart

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