Driving Under the Influence of… Electronics? Washington Rolls Out Distracted Driving Law

By: Ryan Gallagher August 14, 2017
Drivers in Washington may now face fines for DUI-E, driving under the influence of electronics.
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After passage of new legislation, Washington drivers may want to think twice before using a cell phone while driving. In late July, Washington’s Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act (DUI-E) went into effect.

The new law places a high importance on deterring hand-held cell phone use while driving.

Drivers may not text, play online games, or search the web while driving. There are no exceptions for mobile device use at traffic lights or stops, according to the new legislation. However, police officers will not enforce the law if a driver is parked, out of traffic flow, or trying to contact emergency services.

Devices should only be accessed with a single touch or through a hands-free system. If a driver must touch their device, the law states that they must apply “minimal use of a finger.”

“The idea is for you to activate your phone with one touch, so you don’t have to look away from your windshield to dial 10 numbers, to make a phone call,” explained State Patrol Trooper Rick Johnson.

Drivers should also queue music and set their GPS before shifting into drive, lawmakers suggest.

Those who fail to follow the new law will receive a $136 ticket for their first offense, the law states. After a second offense, the fine increases to $234.

Furthermore, drivers can be pulled over and fined $99 for being “dangerously distracted.” In this case, the driver may not necessarily be on their mobile device, but rather may be distracted by grooming, smoking, and/or eating.

Both the Washington State Patrol and Seattle Police Department would like to ease into the new law and focus on education before punishment. Each law enforcement agency will begin with a 6-month grace period in which they will issue warnings and hand out distracted driving education cards

“In the end, for us, it’s all about compliance. We want people to be safe on the road, we don’t want to issue tickets,” said State Patrol spokesman Kyle Moore.

However, not all police departments are following suit, as some disagree with the window of non-enforcement.

“Why wait six months, when sometimes the only message that will get through to people to change their behavior is to actually receive a citation?” said King County Police Sgt. Cindi West.

Officers of both King and Whitman counties have all been told not to provide the grace period to their residents, leaving open the question of how the law will ultimately be enforced throughout the state.

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