On Tuesday May 16, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law the bill that makes illegal use of a mobile phone and other personal electronic devices while behind the wheel. Previously in Washington state, drivers were allowed to use cellphones while driving as long as they weren’t texting or calling; there were no prohibitions from making Snapchat videos, posting on Facebook, or using other apps while behind the wheel. The bill was originally slated to go into effect in 2019, but Inslee said the matter was too important to wait, so the new distracted driving law will take effect in mid-July of this year.
The first offense for illegally using a personal electronic device will cost you $136, and the fine increases to $234 for a second offense. Portions of the fine fund legislative assessments, trauma care, auto theft prevention, and the Traumatic Brain Injury account. Also, each offense can and likely will be reported to insurance companies, which will cause your insurance rates to rise.
Cell phone use will therefore be illegal even while stopped at a red light or stuck in stop-and-go traffic. Exceptions will be made for emergencies, such as calling 911 to report a crash. Also exempt are two-way radio, citizens band radio, and amateur radio equipment. The law does allow for using one finger to activate the cellphone or other personal electronic device, but there’s not much you can do beyond that.
If you need to call someone or use a GPS for directions, buy a GPS or Bluetooth system that connects your phone to your car. Better yet, wait until you get home to make that call. Driving while texting has been proven to increase the risk of a crash by a factor of 23. This is as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol content that is over twice the legal limit of .08.
It is unfortunate how many lives were lost and injuries sustained before this sensible law was passed. One of the most well-known stories in the area is that of Cody Meyer, a construction worker who was wearing high-visibility reflective clothing while flagging traffic near Issaquah in December 2015. Meyer was hit by a man who was looking at his phone, texting, and not paying attention to the road in front of him. Meyer passed away from his injuries five months later.
The inherent risk in using an electronic device while driving is not enough for some people to quit using their phones. Hopefully the new law will succeed at getting more people to pay attention to the road instead of their phones. If you see a friend or family member use their phone while driving, remind them that what they’re doing will soon be illegal under the new law, and of the dangers associated with driving distracted.
Ken Selander is a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer who handles injuries caused by distracted drivers. If you were a driver, pedestrian or bicyclist injured as a result of a distracted driver, call Ken at 206.723.8200 for a free consultation.