Put down the cell phone when distracted driver law takes effect July 23

Gov. Inslee signed a new distracted-driving law and accelerated its implementation to July 23. The bill, as passed by the Legislature, had an effective date of Jan. 1, 2019 as sponsors wanted to give police and drivers time to prepare. However, the Governor vetoed that implementation date, meaning the bill takes effect 90 days after being signed.

The law forbids virtually all use of handheld gadgets such as phones, tablets, laptop computers and gaming devices while driving. 



Beginning July 23, 2017, a person who uses a personal electronic device while driving a motor vehicle on a public highway is guilty of a traffic infraction. The first violation of the infraction carries a base penalty of $48 and a total penalty of $136. Second and subsequent violations of this infraction double the base penalty to $96, resulting in a total penalty of approximately $235. 

"Uses" means:

holding a personal electronic device in either hand; 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; and watching video on a personal electronic device. However, the minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a device is not precluded.

A "personal electronic device" means any portable electronic device that is capable of wireless communication or electronic data retrieval, but does not include two-way radio, citizen band radio, or amateur radio equipment.

"Driving" means operating a motor vehicle on a public highway, and includes when the vehicle is temporarily stopped because of traffic or a stop light or stop sign. Driving does not include when the vehicle has pulled over and stopped on the side of an active roadway and can remain stationary safely.

The following actions are exempted from the infraction

a driver who is summoning emergency services; a driver operating an authorized emergency vehicle; a transit system employee using a system for time-sensitive relay communication with transit dispatch services; and a commercial motor vehicle driver who uses a device within the scope of an individual's employment as allowed by federal law.

The state law related to drivers using a personal electronic device supersedes any local laws regulating the use of wireless devices in motor vehicles.

It is a traffic infraction to drive dangerously distracted. Dangerously distracted means a person who engages in any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of such motor vehicle on any highway. The new infraction may only be enforced as a secondary action when the driver has been detained for a suspected violation of a separate traffic infraction. The base penalty for the infraction is $30, with a total penalty of approximately $100. The $30 base penalty must be deposited into the Distracted Driving Prevention account and may only be appropriated for programs dedicated to reducing distracted driving and improving driver education on distracted driving.

For more information, contact AGC Chief Lobbyist Jerry VanderWood, 360.352.5000.