April is recognized by the National Safety Council as Distracted Driving Awareness Month to draw attention to the widespread problem of distracted driving. Distracted driving refers to activity that disrupts a driver’s focus. Cell phone activity distracts a driver’s attention and thus endangers the driver, their passengers, other drivers and passengers on the road, and pedestrian bystanders.

Thousands of people die each year in car accidents involving cell phone use and distracted driving. These accidents often involve cell phone calls without the use of hands-free devices. These accidents also rampantly occur when drivers are using apps, updating social media, texting, or checking email while driving. One text or call could wreck it all!

Distraction.gov, an official US government website for distracted driving, reports 3,179 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2014. The NSC reports 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or other electronic devices while driving at any given daylight moment across America.  Clearly this is an incredibly dangerous, deadly epidemic.

Distracted Driving Awareness Month seems like an appropriate time to review how we can make a difference in protecting the lives of ourselves and the people around us, and to refresh ourselves on cell phone laws.

Pledge to make a difference:

Distraction.org asks drivers to make a commitment to be part of the effort to end distracted driving. Drivers are encouraged to pledge to:

  • Protect lives by never texting or talking on the phone while driving.
  • Be a good passenger and speak out if the driver in your car is distracted.
  • Encourage your friends and family to drive phone-free.

Washington State Law:

Washington’s current cell phone laws came into effect in June, 2010. Formerly, drivers could only be ticketed for texting while driving if it was a secondary offense. However, under the new law if police see you holding your phone or texting while driving, they can pull you over and issue a ticket for the offense.

Violations of cell phone and texting laws carry a $124 fine for a first-time offense. This could be significantly more if you are involved with causing a collision.

Cell Phone Law:

  • Washington State’s Cell Phone Law(RCW 46.61.667) states you may not use a wireless communications device or hand-held mobile telephone while driving. Drivers must use hands-free devices.
  • Drivers with Instruction Permits(RCW 46.20.055) or Intermediate Licenses (RCW 46.20.075) cannot use any wireless communication device while driving, even if it is hands-free, unless in an emergency situation.

Texting Law:

  • Washington State’s Text Messaging Law(RCW 46.61.668) prohibits sending, reading, or writing a text message while driving.

Exceptions:

Washington drivers are permitted to use handheld cell phones in the following exceptions only:  (Please note: These exceptions do not apply to drivers with Instruction Permits or Intermediate Licenses)

  • If operating an authorized emergency vehicle or a tow truck responding to a disabled vehicle
  • Using a hands-free device including a speakerphone, blue tooth, or headset
  • Reporting illegal activity or calling for medical or emergency help
  • Using a hearing aid

In emergency situations, drivers are urged to evaluate the urgency of the situation and necessity of cell phone use, and to pull over to a safe place if at all possible.

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