Distracted driving in Washington D.C. can lead to accidents and penalties. Thus, motorists must stay alert and keep their eyes on the road at all times while operating a vehicle. In addition to the district’s tips and guidelines on staying alert, there are laws against distracted driving that must be followed.

Overall, Washington D.C. has strict distracted driving laws against the use of electronic devices inside a car. A driver found violating this law will be subject to fines. The only exceptions to these laws are granted to motorists undergoing emergency situations. Moreover, cell phones are allowed if a hands-free device is being used. As a general rule, the practice of texting and driving is not permitted under any circumstance. Furthermore, eating, reading and grooming may also draw the attention of the driver away from the road.

What is distracted driving in Washington D.C.?

The District of Columbia considers driving distractions any activities that take a driver’s eyes away from the road for a prolonged period of time. Studies show that hundreds of thousands of accidents are the result of distracted drivers. Thus, in order to prevent distracted driving accidents in DC, the activities listed below must be avoided while operating a motor vehicle.

  • Eating or drinking.
  • Using electronics, including:
    • Texting while driving.
    • Using a cell phone.
    • Adjusting controls in the vehicle, such as the radio.
    • Operating a navigational device, such as a GPS.
  • Reading of any kind, including newspapers, books and text messages.
  • Talking to fellow passengers.

Studies show that motorists make 200 decisions for every mile that a car travels, which is one of the most significant distracted driving facts that drivers must take into consideration. Moreover, the reaction time of most motorists is between three and four seconds. Facts about distracted driving also state that a vehicle will travel the length of a football field in three to four seconds if going at 55 miles per hour. Therefore, if a driver becomes distracted during that time, passing dangers will not be noticed.

Distracted Driving Laws in Washington D.C. for Handheld Devices

The Distracted Driving Safety Act of 2004 is one of the most important distracted driving laws to have ever been issued in the United States. Overall, this law bans the use of all electronic devices by drivers, unless the device has hands-free capabilities. Thus, be mindful that this distracted driving law covers the following items:

  • Cell phones
  • Computers
  • Pagers
  • Video games
  • Music players

In most cases, a hands-free device can be permanently installed in the vehicle or used remotely, which could significantly reduce the dangers of cell phone use while driving. For that reason, distracted driving laws allow for the use of hands-free devices if both of the motorist’s hands remain on the steering wheel at all times. On the other hand, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, the driver is allowed to power the cell phone on or off, as well as initiate or terminate a call. However, motorists are always allowed to use electronic devices in the event of an emergency. Furthermore, law enforcement officers and emergency workers are allowed to use cell phones while driving if the purpose of the call is related to their professional activities.

Texting and Driving Laws in Washington D.C.

Texting while driving is not permitted under any circumstance. In addition, it is important to note that texting does not only refer to cell phones. According to the distracted driving laws in Washington D.C., texting includes any electronic wireless device that composes, sends or receives a text-based message or image. A message can be classified as a text message, instant message or electronic mail.

Under the district’s texting and driving laws, law enforcement officers are permitted to stop a motorist who they believe is texting while driving. Then, this driver is susceptible to being issued a ticket. However, this law does not apply to parked vehicles.

Washington D.C. Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers

New drivers who are operating a vehicle under a permit license must adhere to stricter distracted driving laws. As a general rule, cell phone use while driving is strictly forbidden for all motorists with learner’s permits, regardless of whether a hands-free device is available. With that said, emergency calls are allowed in relevant situations. While provisional drivers must be accompanied by a licensed motorist who is older than 21 years of age, they are not allowed to drive with additional passengers. This restriction helps to reduce the number of internal distractions that can come from fellow passengers.

Washington D.C. Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders

There are additional distracted driving laws for motorists who carry a commercial driver’s license in Washington D.C. Under the Distracted Driving Safety Act of 2004, school bus drivers are prohibited from using any electronic device, even if it has hands-free capabilities. Allowances are made for school bus drivers who need to place an emergency call.

Research from the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) shows that eight percent of crashes involving large trucks are the result of distracted driving. Similarly, two percent of crashes involving commercial drivers are the result of an internal distraction. It is not only the responsibility of commercial drivers to adhere to these laws, but also their employers. Commercial employers cannot make cell-phone use mandatory for professional motorists.

Distracted Driving Penalties in Washington D.C.

Law enforcement offices will issue a distracted driving ticket to motorists found driving while distracted. In general, DC motorists are allowed to contest these violations. While drivers will not have points applied to their licenses, a traffic fine may be issued. On the other hand, eligible drivers may have a fine suspended if it is a first-time offense, and if they can prove that they have obtained a hands-free device before the distracted driving penalties were applied.

In the case of commercial driver’s licenses, motorists may have their credentials disqualified if they are convicted of violating a distracted driving law two or more times. A CDL will be disqualified for 60 days if a second offense occurs within three years of the first offense. Moreover, the disqualification increases to 120 days if a third conviction is issued within three years of the second offense. In addition, employers are also subject to heavy fines.

Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in Washington D.C.

The District of Columbia provides tips on how to avoid distracted driving accidents. As a general rule, it is recommended for motorists to make any internal adjustments or phone calls before or after operating a vehicle. Furthermore, you can follow the below guidelines to stay alert and safe on D.C roads.

  1. Do not eat while driving. Holding or dropping food will pull your focus from the road.
  2. Do not adjust controls in the car. Spending a prolonged amount of time changing the radio or adjusting controls, mirrors or seats will take your attention off the road.
  3. Pull over to make any phone calls. Talking on the phone while driving without a hands-free device is illegal.
  4. Wear sunglasses, if applicable. Sun glares may be distracting and force you to take your eyes off the road.
  5. Keep your music or radio at a low volume while driving. Loud noises in the vehicle may stop you from hearing emergency vehicles or dangers on the road.
  6. Place reading materials in the trunk of the car to stop distracted driving Placing these items in the truck will force you to focus on the road and make it impossible to reach for them while driving.
  7. Set all destinations into navigational devices, such as a GPS or smartphone, before you leave.
  8. Pull over if a passenger in the vehicle is distracting you.
Last updated on Tuesday, September 4 2018.

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