Effective last Sunday, July 23, Washington State “Electronic DUI” legislation SSB 5829 imposed new traffic penalties on drivers using consumer electronics behind the wheel. The purpose of this law is to help prevent needless accidents and keep Washington roads safe for both drivers and pedestrians by curbing the widespread use of electronics (especially phones) by drivers on the road. Here’s what you need to know about the new legislation and what you can do to keep yourself both safe and free of unwanted traffic fines.
The most important thing to be aware of is that this law is broad and comprehensive. Any use of handheld electronics while driving is now a violation, carrying a first time penalty of $136. The penalty increases to $234 if you incur another citation within five years. Under the law any form of accessing information, typing, messaging, using your camera, or watching videos are infractions. You are also considered to be driving even when caught in slow to standstill traffic or stopped at a traffic light or sign. Drivers would be well advised to keep their phones out of their hands while on the road. To avoid temptation, try placing your phone somewhere in the car where you can’t possibly reach or access it, such as in your backseat or in your purse on the floor of your vehicle.
Exceptions to the law do exist, however. Drivers who rely on wireless systems are still free to use any hands free devices, such as Bluetooth, so long as they can start their use with a single touch without holding their phones. If you are parked or out of the flow of traffic on the side of the road, you are also free to use your electronics. You may also use your phone for contacting emergency services.
While it is good for your wallet to avoid violating the new law, it is even better for your personal safety. Washington distracted driving fatalities increased by 32% in 2014, helping prompt the legislature to impose these strict new penalties. One out of four crashes involves cell phone use just before the accident.
If you’re behind the wheel, focus on driving. Replying to calls and texts can always wait. If you know somebody who is driving, do not call or text them while they are on the road and reduce their risk of getting into an accident. Ideally, these new penalties should help us all remember the potentially grave losses associated with distracted driving and help us to avoid them.
Ken Selander is a personal injury and wrongful death attorney in the Seattle area, who represents victims of accidents caused by texting drivers. If you were injured or suffered the death of a family member due to a careless or negligent driver, please contact Ken today at 206.723.8200 for a free case review and consultation.