Washington's enhanced distracted driving law starts July 23

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, July 21, 2017

Behaviors that include eating while driving and texting at red lights could soon result in hefty fines for travelers in the state of Washington.

A new law in effect Sunday, July 23, updates existing restrictions on drivers’ use of electronic devices.

State law already prohibits the use of handheld devices to make phone calls. Text messaging is also outlawed.

Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into law a bill to expand the law to cover other uses for electronic devices that drivers access while behind the wheel. Examples include Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“Put the cell phones down, preserve life,” Inslee said this week in Olympia, Wash.

The new law prohibits any holding of a personal electronic device while driving. The ban also applies to drivers stopped at a traffic light or a stop sign.

As detailed in SB5289 the rule covers using your hand or finger to compose, send, read, view, access, browse, transmit, save, or retrieve email, text messages, instant messages, photographs, or other electronic data.

Violations are a primary offense, which permits police to pull over drivers just for using a handheld device.

Offenders would face $136 fines. Subsequent offenses within five years would result in $234 fines.

First-time offenders would have their distracted driving offense reported to their insurance company.

There are some exceptions to the new rule. Using a hands-free device to make a phone call is permitted. Drivers can also use minimal touch features to activate apps such as a mobile GPS.

Other exceptions are included for commercial drivers. Specifically, use of a device within the scope of employment as allowed by federal law is permitted. The use of CB radios is also allowed.

Distractions that include grooming or eating while driving will be a secondary offense, meaning police can only issue a ticket after pulling over a driver for a separate offense. Fines will be $99.

“I wish we didn’t need a stronger law, but it’s clear that people need a new reason to concentrate on the road ahead instead of something else in the car,” stated Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

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