New car-safety technology was supposed to help decrease traffic fatalities, but the opposite is happening because of distracted driving. Drivers need to put down their cellphones.

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Traffic deaths killed 537 people in Washington state last year, continuing significantly higher deaths than the 2014 rate of 467, which was at the end of years of decreasing numbers. Experts blame the upward trend on distracted driving.

New teeth for Washington’s distracted-driving law are beyond past due. For those drivers who still are texting or chatting with their cellphones in their hands, January brings a $136 fine to enforce that message in places where the fine wasn’t instituted already. The Washington State Patrol, Snohomish County deputies and Seattle police all have observed a six-month education period, while King County sheriff’s deputies began issuing some tickets right after the Legislature passed the new state law earlier this year.

In 2016, 156 of the 537 roadway deaths in Washington state were blamed on distractions of various kinds, as were 572 of the 2,208 serious injuries.

New car-safety technology was expected to help decrease traffic fatalities, but the opposite is happening because of distracted driving. Everyone needs to put down their cellphones and just drive.

The fines ought to help stop distracted driving where fear of accidents has not. The stories are numerous and disturbing. Authorities say a Monroe, Oregon, woman was using her cellphone when she rolled her vehicle in October. She was ejected and then run over by a passing motorist and died, according to the Oregon state police. Oregon also enacted a new distracted-driving law earlier this year.

Still, too many drivers aren’t paying attention to the road. The U.S. Transportation Department says highway deaths spiked nationally in 2016 after years of declining fatalities. Traffic deaths are mostly on the rise in urban areas where traffic congestion is getting worse, according to an insurance industry group, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

A study by True Motion, a company that sells anti-distracted driving technology to insurance companies, found that when traffic slows because of congestion, many drivers pick up their smartphones to text or use apps.

If you’re sick of the congestion, take the bus. When you drive your car, put your phone away and stay focused on the road.