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New Washington Law Makes Using Phones & Tablets While Driving Illegal, Toughens DUI Punishments

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Jun 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

New driving laws in Washington state to become effective mid-July

This May, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill into law which will soon make checking your phone while driving illegal in the state of Washington. Specifically, the bill prohibits holding an electronic device such as a phone, tablet, or other gadgets while driving, while sitting in traffic, or while waiting for a red light to change.

The bill is designed to respond to a recent survey of 22,000 drivers in Washington, conducted and released by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. The study found that 1 in 10 drivers was distracted while at the wheel, and noted that distracted driving fatalities increased by 32% between 2014 and 2015 in the state of Washington. Distracted driving is a growing problem as citizens become more attached to their phones and keeping in constant contact with others.

Although the measure to prohibit the use of electronic devices while operating a vehicle was originally slated to go into effect in 2019, Inslee vetoed that part of the bill, and the new rule will begin in mid-July of 2017. The legislature hopes that it will reduce crashes caused by distracted driving by prohibiting a driver from checking their email, checking their Facebook, or live streaming video in the car. The bill does allow, however, for the “the minimal use of a finger” to “activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a personal electronic device while driving.” A driver would, therefore, be able to reject a call or pause music, for example. The bill also makes an exception for contacting a radio station or operating an amateur radio station.

Currently, Washington law only prohibits texting and holding a phone while talking and driving. Inslee believes that the new measure will make drivers safer, remarking, “All too often from our own cars, we see other drivers reading their cellphones — and cross our fingers.”

Once the measure goes into effect, the standard traffic fine of $136 will be given for a first offense, and a fine of $235 will apply to a second offense. Safety officials had planned an awareness campaign that would inform people of the change in the law over the next couple of years, but they will now have to devise a method of public education. The Seattle Times reports that police departments may print informational cards to hand out to drivers.

Another interesting part of the new law states that “any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle” that a driver engages in will be subject to a $100 fine if it occurs while the driver makes a traffic violation. If the driver is doing something else, like drinking coffee or checking a map while they are driving, and a violation occurs, they may be subject to this fine.

Tougher DUI Laws in Washington 

With the governor's signature, the state also toughens its DUI laws. Now, a fourth DUI offense committed within a period of 10 years will be considered a felony. Previously, the first four charges were considered misdemeanors, and the fifth offense was charged as a felony.

These new laws will definitely have an impact on Washington drivers.  Speaking from experience, is so tempting to look down at our phones while driving or being stopped at a red light or in traffic.  It is important to remember that a law enforcement officer can stop a person who he or she believes is inappropriately using their phone.  And if that person has consumed alcohol (or other mind-altering substance) they can get subsequently arrested for driving under the influence.  And the penalties for a Washington DUI are some of the toughest in the nation.  

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 16 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.

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