Put down that cellphone; distracted-driving law is here

Washington state’s new distracted-driving law is now in effect. Here’s what you need to know to avoid a ticket:

No more excuses, public-safety officials say, but would you actually be charged the $136 fine for violating Washington state’s new anti-distraction law, which takes effect Sunday?

That depends on where you drive. The Washington State Patrol will ease into a six-month grace period when troopers issue warnings and hand out educational cards.

“In the end, for us, it’s all about compliance. We want people to be safe on the road, we don’t want to issue tickets,” State Patrol spokesman Kyle Moore said. On the other hand, the King County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols 13 cities and towns as well as county roads, will immediately treat electronic distraction like other violations. Deputies will use discretion to cite or warn, based on severity, a motorist’s record, or the person’s attitude.

Some frequently asked questions:

The law forbids handheld uses. Not just phone calls, 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.

All video watching is illegal, even in a dashboard or dash-mounted device.

Q. What’s legal?

Common built-in electronics, including hands-free phones, satellite music and maps, are legal.

Handheld phone calls to 911 or other emergency services are legal, as are urgent calls between transit employees and dispatchers. Amateur radio equipment and citizens-band radio remain legal.

To legally use a handheld device for non-emergencies, the driver must pull away from traffic lanes, to where the vehicle “can safely remain stationary.”

Q. What does “minimal use of a finger” mean?

Police will use their judgment. State Patrol Trooper Rick Johnson, a spokesman based in Bellevue, sees it this way: “The idea is for you to activate your phone with one touch, so you don’t have to look away from your windshield to dial 10 numbers, to make a phone call.” Typing a map address while in traffic, now common behavior, will be treated by many troopers as a violation, he said.

Q. Is driving under the influence of electronics (DUI-E) a primary offense?

Q. How much does a ticket cost?

The fine is $136 for the first offense. For additional violations within five years, the fine increases to $234 per citation.

Q. Will a ticket raise my insurance rates?

Probably, if you‘ve been found guilty of other traffic violations.

Distracted-driving citations will be reported in state driving records, unlike the previous law. Insurance companies will track them.

Q. What about other distractions?

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 offense, such as speeding or a dangerous lane change.

The standard fine is $99 — which is more than the $30 mentioned in the legislation, and past news reports. The higher total, like the electronic-distraction penalty, includes fees for state government and trauma care.

Embracing another while driving” has been illegal since 1927. If a cop sees your arm around someone so both hands can’t reach the wheel, that’s a reckless-driving offense.

Q. I raise my cellphone near my hearing aid. Is that OK?

Q. Is the law really enforceable?

Washington state is home to 5.7 million licensed drivers and 165 million miles of travel miles daily. Roadway observations find 10 percent of drivers on the road are handling a phone.


Even during a grace period, drivers statewide will still be cited under older laws that forbid using a cellphone at the ear, and texting. For perspective, about 39,000 tickets were issued statewide per year under the old law, while drivers caught by troopers had a 50-50 chance of getting off with just a warning.

Plese drive safely out there and adhere to all applicable laws. Distracted driving is a serious issue, many injuries are attributed to this problem annually. If you have any additional questions, please contact your safety manager.