A new law has recently gone into effect in Washington state which restricts the use of cellphones while driving. The law was originally scheduled to begin in January of 2019, but was moved by Governor Jay Inslee to begin on July 23, 2017. The law is officially titled “Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act” which creates a category of offense called a DUIE.
The law makes it officially illegal to operate a handheld electronic device while driving. This might include such actions as texting, finding a number to make a call, operating GPS on cellphones, or scrolling through mp3 players, tablets, laptops and gaming devices. These actions are now prohibited even when the driver is stopped at a red light or is waiting in traffic. Now, the fine for using a handheld electronic device while operating a vehicle starts at $136 for a first offense. A second offense will jump to a fine of $234.
In addition to cracking down on the use of handheld electronic devices, the law also aims to address other sources of distraction that may put drivers and pedestrians on the road at increased risk. For example, the bill now prohibits actions such as eating, applying makeup while driving, or shaving, among other things. These are classified as “secondary offenses” and will only carry a fine of $99.
Texting while driving was already illegal in the state of Washington, as was holding a cellphone to the ear. However, according to police observation, drivers would routinely flout these rules and continue to use their phones on speaker phone or text between their legs. The new law is designed to create a basic level of prohibition which does not leave room for negotiation.
The law does have a couple of exceptions to this hard and fast rule. For example, hands free calling and gps is still permitted. Emergency calls to 911 and urgent communication between companies is still allowed under the new law, as is the “minimal use of a finger” for any driver, in order to close an app or dismiss a notification.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, texting or dialing the phone while driving can up to triple your chance of an accident. The frequency of accidents caused by distracted driving increases each year as people become more and more engaged in constant electronic communication and access to handheld devices is seen as more of a necessity. According to a survey conducted by State Farm, “Nearly 30% of drivers surveyed in 2015 admitted accessing the internet while driving” last year.
Another study completed in 2015 by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission found that one in ten drivers were distracted to some degree on the road, and that 70% of those distracted were using their cellphones.
Washington is the first state to enact a law with these particular regulations. Other states will likely watch how this bill affects rates of distracted driving accidents and deaths in the state in order to find a new norm for regulating cellphones in the car.