Washington’s new “Distracted Driver” law
“Put down that cell phone while you are driving.”
That is the message the Washington Legislature sent to all drivers this spring. The new law tightens up previous statutes regarding cell phone and portable device use while driving.
The new law (Substitute Senate Bill 5289, Laws of 2017, chapter 334) defines “use” of a device to include holding the device in either hand or both hands. There is a specific list of prohibited activities. However, it does not include “the minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of the device.” That implies you can hit the button to call Siri up and ask her questions, or get directions, as long as the device is not in your hand for very long. We can predict a lot of tickets may be contested on the basis of what constitutes “minimal use.”
The new law makes this a primary infraction, meaning it can be the sole basis for pulling a driver over. A second offense doubles the fine.
The new law has a separate provision aimed at other “distracted driving ” behavior, such as eating or drinking in a car, smoking, or applying makeup. These behaviors cannot be the primary basis for the stop, but can be cited in the event a police officer makes a stop for some other legitimate basis.
The Legislature has taken the position that the use of electronic devices while driivng is a potentially dangerous to other motorists as driving while intoxicated (DUI). While this law does not the penalty structure of a DUI, it is likely to become a powerful enforcement tool for the police.