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Seattle traffic police will start issuing more tickets for the new distracted driving law in September. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

A new law that prohibits Washington drivers from using personal electronics behind the wheel took effect July 23 and in the first week, state troopers pulled over 337 offenders.

Fortunately for 310 of those drivers, troopers are mostly issuing warnings during a six-month grace period in which they’re educating residents about the new law. But not everyone is getting off scot-free. State troopers did issue 27 citations during the first week of the new law, presumably for the most egregious violators.

The stats come from Washington State Patrol’s (WSP) website and were first spotted by MyNorthwest.

Holding a phone to your ear or texting while driving were already prohibited in Washington state but the new law takes it a step further. The law forbids drivers from using a phone or other electronic device for anything while driving or stopped at a light — with a couple of exceptions. Drivers can use one finger for tasks like answering a call, and the law won’t be enforced in an emergency.

By comparison, during the week before the law took effect, WSP stopped 273 drivers for using their cell phones, issuing citations to 118.

GeekWire rode along with a Seattle Police Department officer during the first week the law took effect to see what kind of behavior is likely to catch the attention of traffic cops. In just over an hour, he stopped three people breaking the law. If he had been stationary, the officer said he could have caught far more offenders. The experience underscored just how technology-dependent drivers have become and how difficult breaking the habit of checking a cell phone in traffic will be for many Washingtonians.

“The Washington State Patrol is currently running a six-month ‘grace’ period,” WSP’s website says. “Basically meaning troopers are looking to educate more drivers on the new law, not ticket them. However, it’s important to remember just because we will be in the ‘grace’ period until January, doesn’t mean drivers get a free pass. If troopers observe distracted driving violations coupled with other dangerous driving behaviors, or if you’ve already received a warning about the new law, you run the risk of getting a ticket.”

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