Washington State has a new anti-distraction law, effective NOW. Be sure you understand the law so you can avoid a citation.

The Seattle Times and Komo News provide useful, detailed accounts of what is banned and what is legal. Here are some of the bullets:

  • Driving under the Influence of Electronics (DUI-E) is a primary offense. A police officer can pull someone over based solely on seeing them using a handheld device, typing on their device, or watching a video.
  • This law became effective yesterday, 7/23/17. It is enforceable now.

What is banned?

  • The new law prohibits a person who is sitting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle from holding a personal electronic device in either or both hands
  • Texting or holding a phone to your ear was already against the law.
  • The new law forbids all handheld use. This means not just phone calls or texting, but composing or reading any kind of message, social media post, photograph, or data.
  • Drivers may not use handheld devices while at a stop sign or red-light signal either.
  • All video watching is illegal, even in dashboard dash-mounted device.
  • Miscellaneous distractions such as grooming or eating are a secondary offense, meaning a ticket may be issued if a law-enforcement officer pulls you over for some other traffic offense.

What is legal?

  • The new law allows for “the minimal use of a finger” to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a personal electronic device. Police will use their judgment on this. The intention for it to include a one-touch activation action only, where the driver does not need to look away from their windshield.
  • Common built-in electronics, such as hands-free phones and satellite music and maps, are legal.
  • Smartphones mounted in a dashboard cradle may be used for limited purposes, such as navigation, music, or a voice-activated call.
  • Emergency, handheld calls to 911 or other emergency services are legal, and so are urgent calls between transit employees and dispatchers.

What are the penalties?

  • The standard traffic fine of $136 would apply to a first offense, but would increase to $234 for a second offense within five years.
  • For a 6-month grace period, the WA State Patrol will reportedly be handing out literature about the new law. However, the grace period is controversial among police King County Sheriff’s Office intends to begin issuing citations immediately.
  • Don’t take any chances. Expect you will be ticketed and fined if you are stopped for this offense.
  • These citations will be reported in state driving records, unlike the previous law. Insurance companies will track them and violations may impact your insurance rates.

Why is this happening?

  • The Seattle Times reports that last year, 156 of the 537 WA State roadway deaths were related to distraction of various kinds, as were 572 of the 2,208 serious injuries.
  • This intention of the new law is to save lives.

Please reference the Seattle Times & Komo News articles for additional, more detailed information.