Washington’s newest distracted driving law goes into effect

Michael McCormic, Jr.
Michael McCormic, Jr.

Michael McCormic, Jr.
For ClarkCountyToday.com

VANCOUVER — Beginning July 23, Washington drivers will be limited to hands-free electronic use when behind the wheel. Thanks to a new law passed through the state legislature and approved by Governor Jay Inslee, holding an electronic device while driving is no longer permitted on Washington roads.

The purpose of the new law is to decrease the amount of distracted driving in the state by increasing the fines and broadening the scope of the regulations regarding the use of electronics while driving.

State Trooper Stephen Robley, from Vancouver, explains the limits of the previous law, saying that under the previous law, the only cell phone-related traffic infractions were texting, which includes reading or writing a text or email, and holding a phone up to one’s ear. Those aside, there were no other limitations on the use of cellular devices while driving.

As technology continues to advance, new applications like Snapchat and Instagram have become more heavily used than text and call functions on cellular devices. Up until now, no laws have been implemented in Washington to curb the use of such apps while behind the wheel.

With the introduction of the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation tailored to address gaping loopholes in the old cell phone law, Washington drivers must follow strict distracted driving laws or face stiff penalties.

The name of the act is somewhat misleading; contrary to what the threatening title suggests, improper use of a cellular device behind the wheel will not result in the driver receiving a DUI.  They will, however, be given a $136 fine for the first offense and a fine double that amount upon the second offense.

In addition to the steep fines, infractions related to cell phone use will now be reported to drivers’ insurance companies, something that, according to Trooper Robley, was not done under the previous set of laws.

“Currently, texting and talking on the cellphone while driving is not reported to insurance and does not go on your driving record. However, that is also changing. It will be on your driving record and it will be reported to insurance companies,” Robley explains.

In addition, other distracted driving habits, such as eating, grooming, and smoking, will be considered secondary offenses, meaning that a $99 secondary ticket can be added to a primary offense for which a traffic stop occurs.

The scope of actions covered under the legislative act is also broader than before. While the previous regulations only applied to the use of cell phones, Trooper Robley says, “The new law is covering a wide variety of electronics which includes cell phones, tablets, laptops, mp3 players – any electronic device, even GPS. You have to be completely hand free.”

Drivers can use bluetooth headsets or audio connection for calls, voice type for texting, and dash mounts for navigation. Under the new laws, only one-touch or one-swipe actions are permitted when the phone is mounted.

The Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act ultimately boils down to one thing: safety. While it may take some time getting used to the new regulations, the eventual aim of the law is to make our roads safer.

“Every day, we have collisions,” Trooper Robley claims. “People are distracted by other occupants in the vehicle, grooming, eating, talking on the cell phone, pets – those are all distractions in the vehicle. We want people to put down the phone, put down their electronics, put down the cheeseburger, whatever the case may be, and focus on their driving. You’re driving a three, four, five thousand pound weapon, and when you don’t pay attention, you could hurt somebody seriously.”

The new law officially takes effect on July 23. While it has not yet been made public whether there will be a grace period, drivers are encouraged to educate themselves on the upcoming change in distracted driving laws.

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