Police Begin Enforcing Washington’s Distracted Driving Law

January 4, 2018

Police in Washington state have begun enforcing the new distracted driving law following the end of a six-month grace period.

Under the new law, drivers are prohibited from holding an electronic device – including phones, tablets and other electronic devices – while driving, including while in traffic or waiting for a traffic light to change.

However, the measure would allow “the minimal use of a finger” to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a personal electronic device while driving.

KOMO-TV reports that drivers caught with a cellphone in hand will be issued a $136 ticket. The fine increases to $234 if a driver is caught a second time. The first distracted driving offense would also be reportable to insurance companies, which could raise rates like any other moving violation.

Another section of the bill also says a person who engages in “any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle” is subject to pay an additional fine of $100. It only applies, if an officer catches a driver being distracted while committing a standard traffic offense, such as running a stop sign because their coffee spilled or a pet jumped in their lap.

The bill doesn’t prohibit drivers from doing other things like eating, putting on makeup or having a pet in the car but it would create an extra fine if those distractions cause the driver to drive dangerously.

Exemptions to the bill would include using an electronic device to contact emergency services, to operate an emergency vehicle, to allow transit system dispatch services to communicate time-sensitive messages and to allow any activities that are federally authorized for commercial motor vehicle drivers. Operating an amateur radio station and two-way or citizens band radio services are also exempt under the bill.

The new law was enacted by state lawmakers last year, and it was initially set to take effect in 2019 to give the public and the state patrol some time to adjust and prepare for the change.

Gov. Jay Inslee pushed for the law to take effect in July 2017, but instructed law enforcement agencies to give drivers a six-month grace period in order to adapt to the new law.

Washington State Patrol says nearly 7,000 warnings were issued to drivers during the grace period.

(Alexis Myers and AP correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.)

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