The Washington state distracted driver law goes into effect today. The new law punishes drivers caught using a cell phone or other electronic device while sitting behind the wheel.
Even if the vehicle is not moving, a driver caught doing something other than paying attention to the road will receive a $136 fine for the first offense and $235 for any future offenses. Even though driving while holding a phone to the ear and texting has been illegal in the state since 2007, the new distracted driver legislation expands the law to prohibit just about any action that requires more than one touch to activate a function on a phone, tablet, or other devices, including reading text messages, taking a picture, and posting to social media.
Under the language of the measure, law enforcement has the power to legally stop someone if an officer observes a driver using a phone or other device. Any citation issued to a distracted driver will also be recorded in state driving records, making it likely insurance companies will get notified of the violation.
The Washington distracted driver law makes an exception for calls to emergency services and using amateur radio equipment or citizens-band radio. A driver may use their phone to activate a GPS app, listen to streaming music, and make a voice-activated call only if the device is mounted in a dashboard cradle.
Eating, drinking, putting on makeup, or engaging in “any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle” are also banned under another section of the Washington distracted driver law. A driver will be fined $99 for this offense and can only be ticketed if caught violating a primary traffic law, like failing to stop at a stop sign.
While the Washington distracted driver law takes effect today, the state’s highway patrol isn’t likely to issue tickets just yet. Instead of a citation, highway patrol officers will issue warnings and education cards for the next six months to help drivers learn about the new regulations.
“In the end, for us, it’s all about compliance. We want people to be safe on the road, we don’t want to issue tickets,” said State Patrol spokesman Kyle Moore, as reported by the Seattle Times.
Despite the six-month grace period being offered by the highway patrol, some communities are taking a harder stance on the distracted driver law. Sergeant Cindi West of the King County Sheriff’s Department said their office plans to issue traffic tickets to distracted drivers right away.
“Why wait six months, when sometimes the only message that will get through to people to change their behavior is to actually receive a citation?” said Sgt. West, according to the Seattle Times.
From 2014 to 2015, deaths resulting from distracted driving rose 32 percent in the state, reported the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Policymakers behind the Washington distracted driver law hope lives will be saved now that people will focus more on safely operating their vehicle instead of fiddling with an electronic device. California and West Virginia also have similar laws prohibiting any use of electronic devices while driving.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]