Drivers: No more holding of phones under new law in Washington

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a measure that bans holding hand-held devices while driving.

The measure, signed by Inslee in Tacoma Tuesday, prohibits 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.

See a list of the penalties at the bottom of this story.

Inslee vetoed a section that had the measure take effect in 2019. He said it was too important to wait for the provisions to become law. The law will now take effect in mid-July.

Under the measure, "the minimal use of a finger" to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a personal electronic device while driving will still be allowed.

Current law in Washington state only prohibits texting or holding a phone to the ear while driving.

A ticket for distracted driving will be $136.

The law does not apply to a driver who is using a personal electronic device to contact emergency services.

"Personal electronic device" means any portable electronic device that is capable of wireless communication or electronic data retrieval and is not manufactured primarily for hands-free use in a motor vehicle. "Personal electronic device" includes, but is not limited to, a cell phone, tablet, laptop, two-way messaging device, or electronic game. "Personal electronic device" does not include two-way radio, citizens band radio, or amateur radio equipment.

"Use" or "uses" means:  (i) Holding a personal electronic device in either hand or both hands;  (ii) 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; however, this does not preclude the minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of the device; (iii) Watching video on a personal electronic device.

Statistics from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission shows fatal crashes in Washington, caused by distracted driving, increased by 32 percent from 2014 to 2015.

A recent study by the commission shows 71 percent of distracted drivers are distracted by their cellphones.

And studies show drivers are up to four times more likely to be in a crash while talking on the phone and 23 times more likely to crash when entering information into their phones.

Penalties with new law

The following information comes from Washington State Courts staff.

The base penalty is $48 and all other fines and fees that go into traffic infractions are imposed by the Washington State Legislature.

The breakdown on how total penalties are calculated is as follows: Base penalty plus 105% for Public Safety and Education, rounded up, plus a $20 legislative assessment, plus a $5 trauma care fee, plus a $10 auto theft prevention fee, plus a $2 Traumatic Brain Injury account fee.

Example:  $48 (base penalty) + 51 (Public Safety and Education) = $99 (rounded up)

+ $20 (Legislative Assessment)

+  $ 5 (Trauma Account)

+ $10 (Auto Theft)

+  $ 2

(Traumatic Brain Injury)


For the subsequent infractions it is double the base penalty

$ 96 (base penalty) + 101 (Public Safety and Education) = $197

+  $20 (Legislative Assessment)

+  $ 5  (Trauma Account)

+  $10 (Auto Theft)

+  $  2 (Traumatic Brain Injury)


$ 234