Washington distracted driving law in effect: Answers to common questions

The new distracted driving law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee goes into effect Sunday.  How does it work?

There are two parts to the law.

One part, the Electronics DUI offense, prohibits people from holding any electronic device in their hand while driving,  stopped in traffic or stopped at a light. Officers who see drivers holding an electronic device in their hand will be able to pull the driver over as a primary offense. You are allowed to hold your phone to contact emergency services or if you are parked or pulled over and safely stopped out of the way of traffic. Troopers say the side of the freeway is not a good option.

The second part refers to other activities that could cause distracted driving, such as, but not limited to, eating, smoking, reading or grooming. This is a secondary offense, meaning you must be pulled over for another offense, such as a dangerous lane change, to be cited for such an activity, and the activity interfered with safe driving.

This part of the law 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.

How much is the E-DUI fine?

People caught holding a personal electronic device while driving or on the road will be fined $136. If a driver receives a second E-DUI ticket within five years, the fine will be $234.

How much is the fine for other types of distractions?


When does ticketing start?

The Washington State Patrol will not ticket people until after a six-month grace period. Ticketing by WSP begins January.  Other police agencies could ticket drivers starting Sunday.



What kinds of devices are prohibited?

All electronic devices, even tablets, laptops and video games.

If I'm cited, will it be reported to my insurance company?

Tickets for driving while using handheld electronics will go on your record and be reported to your insurance provider.

Can I talk on the phone with a Bluetooth earpiece?

Yes, as long as you don't hold the electronic device in your hand.

Can I use a device on a car cradle or mount?

Yes, but the law only allows for "minimal use of a finger" to start an app or device. Drivers should start GPS or music before they start driving. Typing in a phone number on a mounted device, for example, is not allowed.

Drivers can use some functions of their phones as long as they can start use by no more than a single touch or swipe without holding the phone.  Examples would be making a voice-activated call or starting music.

You cannot use a mounted phone to do more complex functions such as read, type messages, type in a phone number, access information, watch videos, play games or use the camera. Basically, anything that would take more than a single touch.

Will officers be able to check my phone?

Officers will not check your phone when they pull you over.

What if I was looking down, but not at my phone? How will troopers check?

The driver must be seen by a law enforcement official with their phone or device in their hand before they pull them over. Other drivers must not try to take photos of distracted drivers because they will also be violating the law.

What about emergency calls?

You are allowed to hold your device to make an emergency call, such as to 911.

What's not included in the law?

Transit and emergency vehicle drivers are exempt. Drivers of commercial vehicles must follow federal laws. Two-way radios, citizens band radios, or amateur radio equipment are not included in the law.

Does this mean I can no longer eat, drink or smoke in my car?

No! You can still do those things as long as you drive safely. You will only receive the $99 distracted driving fine if you are pulled over for a traffic infraction such as making an unsafe lane change and the officer saw you swerve into the other lane while holding a burger in one hand and a drink in the other, for instance. Or you ran a stop sign while you were focused on lighting a cigarette, and the officer saw it.

You won't be ticketed for distracted driving if you ran a red light and you simply have a bottle of water in the car.

Basically, you can get the secondary distracted driving fine for any distracting behavior - like having an unruly dog in your car -- if you commit a traffic offense that was caused by that distracting behavior. For instance, your dog jumps into your lap and then you rear-end the car in front of you.

If I do get a ticket but have a reason for using the phone, how can I dispute it?

Like with any other ticket, drivers can go to court to argue their case.

How do you think this new law will affect traffic and safety on the roads?

The purpose of this law is to improve traffic and prevent crashes from happening.

If someone must answer a or place call while they’re on the road, how should they handle it?

You can answer or place a hands-free phone call using a Bluetooth earpiece.  If your phone is on a car cradle or mount, you can answer your phone with a single touch or swipe and speak using an earpiece or the speaker function. You can also place calls on a mounted device by using your phone's voice function.

For more information, visit the TargetZero website.

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