A new Washington State distracted driving law bans the use of handheld devices while behind the wheel, even if stopped at a red light.
The new law goes into effect on July 23, 2017 and will be considered a primary offense that can be put on a driver’s permanent driving record.
“I think it’s a good move personally because cellphones are a big part of our lives and everyone feels the need to be connected,” said District 6 Trooper Camron Iverson. “The current law doesn’t address the issue of other social applications, communication on cell phones go way beyond talking and texting.”
Governor Jay Inslee signed the measure into law in May but vetoed a section that had the distracted driving rule taking effect in 2019 in order to help enforce the new law sooner.
Law enforcement officials are gearing up to track down distracted drivers but aren’t worried about facing too many difficulties.
“If we see you doing it, we can pull you over,” said King County Sheriff’s Sgt. Cindi West. “Anyone can drive down the road and look to their right or left and see somebody watching video, texting a friend, it’s just a daily occurrence. So it’s not going to be that difficult.”
The current state law only prohibits texting or holding a phone to the ear while driving. Under the measure, “the minimal use of a finger” to activate, deactivate or initiate a minor function on a handheld electronic device while behind the wheel will still be allowed. However, lawmakers are urging drivers to attempt to stay off their phones completely while driving.
“You need to have a Bluetooth device in your car, if you don’t have one get one retrofitted into your car,” said insurance agent Toni Matous, who works at Magnolia Insurance Agency Inc. in Seattle.
Although the distracted driving law is becoming stricter, the penalty for distracted driving will remain the same within the state. The first offense will cost you $136, and the second offense will cost you $234.
Auto insurance companies are also cracking down on distracted drivers following the implementation of the new law. “The $136 dollar ticket you get is going to be nothing compared to the insurance consequences,” Matous said. Several insurance companies lobbied to get distracted driving laws bumped up to a primary offense so that they could raise premium prices. “The insurance industry is losing big, losing big in the personal auto insurance industry and they’re reeling, trying to find out how to find out how to solve the problem.”
“Insurance companies have already raised rates across the board in the last year to recoup increasing costs,” continued Matous. In reference to a specific Washington car insurance provider, Matous stated that it had already raised its rates on every client by 35 percent, regardless of whether the client had a clean record or not.
Matous also went on to explain that the insurance agencies in Washington have actually notated distracted driving acts as “DUIE” or driving under the influence of electronics.