Distracted Driving Laws in Washington
A review of critical distracted driving facts led the state of Washington to the startling realization that 30 percent of traffic fatalities in the state are the result of accidents from distracted driving. The Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act, passed in 2017, launched a “Target Zero” goal of eliminating serious injuries and death due to traffic accidents of all kinds in the state by 2030.
To support that goal, the state created a suite of distracted driving laws that empower law enforcement agencies and the DMV offices to aggressively pursue texting while driving offenses and other unsafe driving practices. It also set up a series of fines and other consequences to penalize and discourage drivers from texting.
In keeping with best-practice based facts about distracted driving, the state included provisions specific to high-risk groups like novice drivers as well. Although the laws are relatively new, their design and the resources dedicated to enforcing them position them to have a noticeable impact in a short amount of time.
What is distracted driving in Washington?
Washington distracted driving law is fairly unique in that it acknowledges and targets more than just various type. Law enforcement officers issue tickets and penalties to any driver they deem to be subject to dangerous driving distractions as the state’s law provisions allow.
By law in Washington, a dangerous distraction can be anything a motorist is engaged in that is not related to the act of driving and prevents or obstructs his or her ability to safely operate the vehicle being driven. The new laws established distracted driving penalties particular to this category of non-texting related distractions to address problematic and widespread but often difficult to regulate behaviors such as eating or grooming behind the wheel.
Distracted Driving Laws in Washington for Handheld Devices
To deter unsafe cell phone use while driving, Washington has banned the use of any handheld devices for any purpose while operating a vehicle. Its laws explicitly include both text-based communications and talking on the phone while driving without appropriate hands-free devices.
Motorists who are stopped at intersections or sitting unmoving in traffic are still legally considered to be driving and may not access their phones. Qualifying hands-free devices include Bluetooth and other devices which can be activated with a single touch.
Motorists may use their devices for music and GPS navigation if the devices can be set up prior to beginning to drive or the function can be launched with one touch while the vehicle is in motion. Handheld device and texting while driving laws do not apply to the use of two-way radios, CB radios or “amateur radio equipment.”
However, motorists could be subject to a generic distracted driving ticket if the use of such equipment results in unsafe driving.
Washington handheld device and texting and driving laws are primary laws, which means that law enforcement officers do not need any other reason to pull a motorist over if they see him or her using a handheld device while driving.
Texting and Driving Laws in Washington
Washington laws on texting and driving universally ban all drivers at every age and experience level from texting while driving for any reason. All forms of text-based messaging, including emails and social media, are prohibited at all times. Texting and driving penalties are serious and strictly enforced.
Washington Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers
In an effort to stop distracted driving among high-risk young and novice motorists, Washington law forbids the use of mobile devices by all drivers who:
- Are younger than 18 years of age.
- Hold learners’ permits.
- Hold Intermediate WA driver’s licenses.
Distracted driving fines and other penalties will be assessed any time drivers meeting one or more of these criteria use their devices in any way. Exceptions will be made only for motorists using their devices to communicate with emergency services.
Washington Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders
Washington laws on distracted driving do not apply any additional or particular restrictions or penalties to commercial drivers license holders beyond the standards to which all drivers are held.
Distracted Driving Penalties in Washington
Under Washington law, a motorist’s first texting and driving ticket will carry a fine of no less than $136. Second offense texting and driving fines jump to a minimum of $234. Motorists ticketed for non-cell phone associated distractions such as grooming or eating while driving will face fines of between $30 and $100.
Washington motorists can expect to face other consequences for distracted driving as well. The state reports all incidents of cell phone-related distracted driving tickets to offenders’ insurance companies. This almost invariably leads insurers to raise offenders’ auto insurance premiums.
Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in Washington
Washington lawmakers and other authorities have exercised the full scope of their legal abilities to prevent distracted driving and minimize the devastating effects of texting and driving on state residents, their families and their communities. But there are many ways to stop texting and driving that can only be implemented and affected by motorists themselves. These include, but are not limited to:
- Buying and using appropriate hands-free devices.
- Installing and utilizing safe driving apps.
- Planning ahead and scheduling enough time to avoid eating or grooming while driving.
- Properly securing passengers, pets and personal belongings in a vehicle before beginning to drive.
By following these essential safety precautions and taking care of fully focus on the road when driving, Washington motorists can avoid texting accidents and their tragic consequences.