Drivers followed their commuting habits yesterday across the District, from Woodridge in Northeast to Columbia Heights in Northwest, many with cell phones held to their ears.
Unlike mornings of the past, they were breaking the law. Yesterday was the first day for a District law that requires a hands-free device for anyone using a cell phone while driving.
Capt. Kevin Keegan of the city's traffic safety unit said police planned no crackdown but expected to enforce the new law the way other traffic laws are enforced, pulling over motorists if they are seen violating it. Officers are issuing only warnings this month, and they aren't tracking numbers of warnings given, Keegan said. Starting in August, drivers will be issued tickets that will cost them $100 per offense.
Some drivers weren't taking chances during the morning rush yesterday.
For Route 50 drivers heading into the District from Maryland, the Citgo gas station at 2420 New York Ave. NE is a popular place to fill up because the gas is cheaper than at three neighboring stations and at some in Maryland. Most of those who stopped said they were well aware of the new law.
Chris Glass of Columbia, one of several drivers who stopped, said he had made sure to grab his earpiece on his way out the door.
He commutes into the District each day, he said, and didn't want to face a fine. He'd never used the hands-free device, but he said publicity reminded him that the law was in effect. "I get a lot of phone calls, so it will come in handy," Glass said.
The law could help avert some dangerous situations caused by drivers who swerve between traffic lanes, distracted by their phones, he said.
"I wish they would make it countrywide," Glass said. "Once you start doing it, it becomes routine."
Meredith Johnson had his earpiece on when he pulled his black SUV into the station. He said he started using the device more after learning that the law was going into effect. "It makes sense," the Mitchellville-based consultant said. "You have more control of your car."
But Matt Sakal of Arlington said he's finding it more difficult to focus on driving his car while using his hands-free device. The one that came with his phone has two earpieces, and putting them on when a call comes in while driving is a challenge, he said.
Sakal, an Air Force captain recently transferred to the area from California, said he has to drive with his knees as he inserts the earpieces -- earbuds -- and then has to press a button on his phone to pick up the call.
He said he agreed with legislators' intentions but was unsure the law would lead to safer roads unless drivers were educated on how to use the hands-free devices.
Motorists also need to devise a system for safe cell phone use when driving in and out of the District, he said. "People might be fumbling around trying to avoid a ticket, but maybe you'll get in an accident," he said.