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FAQ on Washington’s Distracted Driving Law

By on Jul 21, 2017 | 0 comments

Pokemon Go While Driving

Going into effect on Sunday July 23, 2017, Washington just enacted a comprehensive law aimed at reducing accidents and fatalities caused by distracted drivers. This law prohibits drivers from using electronic devices while driving. The new law vastly expands what’s defined as “using” the device, and increases the penalties too. If you don’t want to get ticketed by the new distracted driving law, read on for details.

The idea behind the law is that driving should take someone’s full attention. The most common distraction for drivers is my daughter kicking the back of the seat and the center console and then trying to take the pacifier out of her brother’s mouth and while we’re dealing with that she’ll kick her shoes towards the front of the car their cell phones, so the law makes interacting with a cell phone in almost any way an infraction. Since this is such a big change here’s an FAQ on the new law:

Q: What is prohibited under this law?
A: Under the law, a driver cannot operate a personal electronic device while driving. A “personal electronic device” is any portable electronic device that can do something wirelessly or can retrieve data stored on it. Examples include cell phones, personal DVD players, video game players, tablets, messaging devices, etc. 

Operating the device means using it or viewing it in any way, even passively. Somebody queueing up a video for you to watch is still a violation.

In addition, even if you are using your hands to type, i.e. keeping your eyes on the road, this constitutes operating the device and is a violation. 

Most importantly, the law prohibits these actions even while stopped at a stop sign or red light.

Q: Are there exceptions?
A: A few. Once you’re safely pulled over to the side of the road you can operate whatever you want. You may briefly touch a button or use your voice (“Hey Siri”) to turn on voice-only operations. Likewise, devices that are designed for hands-free use are permitted to be briefly operated to turn them on. And any built-in devices in your car, including hands-free options, scrolling menus on your car’s dash, and your radio, may continue to be used. This also includes add-ons designed to be affixed to your car, like phone cradles.

Q: What are the penalties for a violation?
A: The first violation is a $136 fine. Which doesn’t sound so bad except it’s reported to your insurance as a moving violation (like a speeding ticket or unsafe lane change) and that results in a bump in your insurance for at least three years. The amount of this bump varies with driving history and your insurance policy, but usually a minimum of $300 more over the course of three years.

Second and subsequent violations of this law come with double the penalty and more insurance consequences.

Q: Can I use the GPS on my phone while driving?
A: It depends. You may only plug in the route before you begin driving. If you have done so, you can have the GPS give voice directions or you can have the phone in a cradle to view route information while driving. But picking up and holding your phone to look at directions while driving is not allowed.

Q: If I can’t use GPS, can I use a sextant while driving?
A: Do you even know how to use a sextant? But technically there is no rule that says you can’t use a sextant while driving.

Q: What about eating or putting on makeup or doing other non-driving stuff while driving?
A: If your non-driving stuff is stuff like shooting heroin or glueing letters onto a ransom note, that remains illegal even if it’s inside your car.

For more innocuous things like eating, or oceanic navigation I guess, you can do it if it doesn’t distract you from safely driving. However, if you are pulled over for some other infraction, e.g. not signalling a lane change, rolling through a stop sign, playing on your phone, etc.; and the officer determines you were dangerously distracted because of another activity you were doing, they can throw on a $99 enhancement on whatever the base ticket is.  

Q: Is distracted driving really that bad?
A: It is a real problem. Statistics are somewhat hard to come by, but the general consensus is accidents and fatalities from people using their cell phones while driving is steadily climbing. Washington’s statistics bear this out.

That being said, I question the value of making these tickets moving violations and having them result in insurance-rate bumps. These penalties disproportionately affect low-income people, which can result in either people working longer hours (meaning less sleep, which makes accidents more likely to occur) or people simply driving without insurance at all (which is bad for everyone). In my opinion, the law is extreme but overall well-intentioned. Though I would have had the first couple tickets be nonmoving violations (violations not reported to insurance companies).

Q: Where can I read the full text of this law?
A: You can review it here.

Q: Is there any catchy nickname or acronym the legislature is using to describe this new law?
A: E-DUI. Electronic Driving Under the Influence.

Q: That’s pretty dumb
A: Not a question!

Q: That’s pretty dumb, isn’t it?
A: Yeah it’s not great.


Remember if you or someone you know received a moving violation infraction or are charged with a crime, feel free to give me a call. Stay safe out there!


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