Washington Distracted-Driving Law is Here: What to Know

As of Sunday, July 23rd, it will now be illegal to use a cell phone or handheld device while on the road in the state of Washington.

As outlined in the state’s new distracted-driving law informational pamphlet, residents in the state of Washington will no longer be allowed to use a handheld cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Following a six month grace period where Washington State Patrol will issue warnings and provide education on the subject, first offenders will be fined $136 with an increase to $234 for a second offense.

This law applies to anyone in the driver’s seat of a vehicle currently on the road, prohibiting other devices like tablets or computers, as well. Even while stopped, drivers will not be allowed to talk on the phone, send or receive messages, or watch videos. So far, exceptions include those using a hands-free device accessible with a single button press, those who are parked and out of the flow of traffic, or those contacting emergency services.

While some departments are intent on applying the few months grave period, others are determined to put the law into effect immediately. “Why wait six months, when sometimes the only message that will get through to people to change their behavior is actually to receive a citation?” said Sgt. Cindi West of the King County Sheriff’s Office.

In addition to electronic devices, this law also covers other kinds of distractions drivers may be susceptible to while at the wheel. Activities, like eating or doing hair and makeup, are considered a secondary offense officers can cite if they have already pulled over a driver for another offense like speeding or reckless driving. The standard fine is set at $99, an increase from the previous fine of $30. By comparison, DUI-E (driving under the influence of electronics) is now considered a primary offense that can get a driver pulled over all on its own.

While police admit that it would be impossible to ensure no one will ever use a cell phone while driving again, the aim of this law is to change public action using it as a deterrent. It is hoped that this will enact the same kind of change that seat belt laws did in the past (Washington has a 95% seat belt usage rate, for reference). Time will tell whether or not things will play out as such.