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Published on Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New, stronger distracted driving bill goes into effect on July 23

A new law targeting distracted driving goes into effect on July 23, 2017. The new law, SB 5289, provides that a person operating a motor vehicle while using a cell phone or other personal electronic device is guilty of a traffic infraction.

There are two major exemptions included for:

  1. Drivers using a device to contact emergency services; and
  2. Emergency personnel, transit system employees, and commercial truck drivers.

The definition of “using a device” is expanded from current law and includes:

  • Holding a device in either hand;
  • Using your hand or finger to read, write, or send email, text messages, instant messages, or other electronic data;
  • Taking a picture; and
  • Watching a video.

However, the minimal use of a finger to activate or initiate a function of a device is allowed.

The new law defines the “personal electronic device” as 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. This includes cell phones, tablets, laptops, two-way messaging devices, and electronic games. Excluded from this definition are two-way radios, citizens band (CB) radios, and amateur radio equipment.

The monetary penalty for the first distracted driving infraction is $136 and the penalty almost doubles to $235 on the second and subsequent offenses. The law also included preemption language that preempt local governments from passing laws, ordinances, or rules governing the use of personal electronic devices in motor vehicles while driving.