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Washington Distracted Driving Law: Will It Work?

Posted on: October 2, 2017 by Edwards & Patterson Law

distracted driving law

A new distracted driving law in the state of Washington has commuters buzzing, and not because they oppose laws that make driving safer. It’s because this particular law dealing with distracted driving hinges mainly on the judgement of a law enforcement officer. With no clear guidelines for specific violations, speculation led even USA Today to inform commuters they could no longer drink their morning coffee while driving to work.

Washington’s distracted driving law prohibits you from holding a cell phone while driving unless you park your car first out of the flow of traffic or you need to contact emergency services. You can use a hands-free phone only if you can initiate the call with a single swipe or touch of the device.

The confusion surrounding the new laws stems from a particular section of the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act (DUI-E) that treats non-electronic distractions as a secondary offense. If pulled over for a primary offense, an officer can now cite drivers an extra $99 for what is, in their judgment, behavior that would distract the motorist from safe driving. Specific infractions are not defined in the law, but police officials and some lawmakers have suggested reading a book or newspaper, applying makeup, eating or drinking, or holding a dog in your lap as possible violations.

Specific Provisions of the New Distracted Driving Law

According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, “fatalities from distracted driving in Washington State increased 32 percent from 2014 to 2015. The commission says that 71 percent of distracted drivers are using their phones.”

While holding a phone to your ear or texting is already against the law in Washington State, the new provision now excludes anything that requires drivers to hold electronic devices in their hand while driving. This includes no reading or sending text messages or watching videos, even while stuck in traffic or sitting at a red light. Motorists must be safely pulled out of traffic at a complete stop to legally engage in such activities. Five other states — Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Vermont, and West Virginia — ban the use as the new Washington law does.

Additionally, “the minimal use of a finger” to deactivate, activate, or initiate an app on an electronic device, either handheld or as part of the vehicle equipment, is still allowed. Exemptions include using a personal electronic device to contact emergency services. First offenses will be awarded the standard $136 fine, which increases to $234 on a second offense. The first offense can also be reported to auto insurance companies, which could mean higher rates for violators.

Objections to the New Law

Some lawmakers and prominent citizens object to the ambiguity of the law, and even to the specific provision that bans drivers from holding cell phones. Republican Representative Ed Orcutt, who voted against the measure in the Washington House, said, “Just the fact that they have a cell phone in their hand doesn’t mean they’re distracted.” He further argues that law enforcement should target actual driving violations and not a technology.

Jason Rantz, a popular Washington talk show host at KIRO 97.3, blogged that, “I won’t follow the distracted driving law,” claiming it “treats drivers like children.” Rantz said he “can safely text in Mercer Street gridlock, or when the Fremont Bridge opens for boat passage.” Over 38,000 citizens have signed an online Change.org petition asking state lawmakers to change the distracted driving law in order to drop the section on non-electronic distractions.

Distracted driving is a growing problem across the United States and here in Oklahoma as well. If you or a loved one are involved in an accident in or around eastern Oklahoma, Tulsa, or McAlester, and you believe a distracted driver is to blame, call on the law professionals of Edwards and Patterson Law. We are your local attorneys who are dedicated to protecting your rights and representing your case fairly and strongly before the courts. You pay absolutely no attorney fees unless you are awarded compensation, so call or contact us online today.

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