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King County Sheriff: Deputies not above distracted-driving law

A driver uses a phone while behind the wheel of a car. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — Law enforcement, emergency workers and transit drivers are exempt from a new distracted driving law.

But King County sheriff’s deputies who are using the cell phone outside of an emergency could face discipline, sheriff John Urquhart says.

“I don’t like my deputies speeding, I don’t like my deputies talking on the cell phone,” Urquhart said in an interview with Q13 News. “I expect them to follow all the laws that everyone else is expected to follow.”

Urquhart said in no uncertain terms that though deputies in patrol vehicles are technically exempt from the law, that doesn't mean they're above it.

"If somebody sees a deputy breaking a traffic law such as talking on a cell phone, we need them to call internal investigations and we will investigate that," Urquhart said. "And we will take the proper action."

Deputies should only use a cell phone in the time of an emergency, just like the law states, Uquhart said. He did not specify how deputies would be reprimanded if found using an electronic device.

Washington State Patrol troopers told Q13 News that most law enforcement vehicles are equipped with Bluetooth, and there's little excuse for talking on the phone.

Under the new measure, "the minimal use of a finger" to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a personal electronic device while driving is still allowed.

The standard traffic fine of $136 would apply to a first offense but would increase to about $234 for a second offense.

The first distracted driving offense would also be reportable to insurance companies, which could raise rates like any other moving violation.

Urquhart has been the sheriff of King County since 2012. He is up for re-election and faces a tough challenge in Maj. Mitzi Johanknecht.