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Published on Friday, July 21, 2017

New distracted driving bill now in effect

A new distracted driving law went into effect on Sunday, July 23, 2017. The new law, SB 5289, states that a person operating a vehicle while using a cell phone or other electronic device is guilty of a traffic infraction. However, drivers may still use hands-free devices for calls and text messages.

The definition of “using a device” is greatly 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.

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 new law also expands the definition of “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 increases to $235 on the second and subsequent offenses. The law also included preemption language that preempts local governments from passing laws, ordinances, or rules on distracted driving.

For more information, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission has setup a website to assist in understanding the new law.

The Department of Licensing (DOL) has also initiated emergency rulemaking in order to update the Model Traffic Ordinance to include the new law. Visit the DOL rulemaking webpage for more information.