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Despite Law, Drivers Keep Dialing With No Headsets

In the District, enforcement of the city's law seems inconsistent, as the number of tickets issued has declined steadily since August, when 860 tickets were issued, along with 335 warnings.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) said his constituents complain about lax enforcement of the law.

At L Street and Connecticut Avenue NW in the District, a driver uses a cell phone without a hands-free device, despite a law enacted nine months ago that mandates the use of such devices by motorists. (Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

"Either there is a mockery that's being made out of the law or the perception that a mockery is being made out of the law," Fenty said. "Either one is not good."

Hope said patrol officers have written up an average of 600 tickets each month. One man thanked Hope for pulling him over on Interstate 295 after the lieutenant spotted the man's vehicle swerving from lane to lane.

"He apparently was in a heated discussion with his girlfriend," Hope said. Being pulled over "calmed him down."

Some officers said they have more urgent priorities.

Officer Savyom Weinfeld said he pulls over three or four drivers a week for cell-phone chatting on his way to drug hot spots along the eastern edges of Capitol Hill.

When irate motorists ask him whether he doesn't have anything better to do, Weinfeld readily acknowledges that he would rather be searching for drug stashes in alleyways. But he said he mostly warns drivers, writing only one ticket or so a week, "when something is blatant."

When he does write up a driver, Weinfeld said he hopes "a $100 ticket may change their behavior."

The threat of a fine did just that for Mark Blum after he was pulled over on Georgia Avenue NW in February as he left the city to return to his home in Berkeley, W.Va.

Blum does not dispute that he was talking on his cell phone, calling his father to make sure his young son was in day care. He also believes the law makes for safer driving.

But the 34-year-old commercial photographer, who drives to the District on business a few times a month, has other beefs about the city's policy. For one, he has seen police officers violating the city's statute.

"Let me understand this -- the police can talk on the phone without a headset, but no one else can?" Blum said. "It seems like a double standard."

Hope said officers and emergency personnel can violate the statute only when on official business.

Blum also wonders why out-of-town drivers are not warned of the law, particularly on a street such as Georgia Avenue, which connects the District and Montgomery County. Hope estimates that three of every four drivers pulled over for the offense live outside the city.

"Not one sign -- a major artery like that," he said. "If they are going to pull people over, they should make people aware."

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