Texting or holding a phone to your ear while driving is already illegal in Washington state. But starting Sunday, Washington state troopers and local police will begin enforcing a toughened law against distracted driving.
This spring, the legislature expanded the distracted driving law to forbid handling a phone behind the wheel for any reason, even when stopped in traffic or at a red light.
Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said you can also get a ticket for eating, sipping coffee, starting a video or grooming if a trooper sees you driving badly as a consequence.
The citation for being "dangerously distracted" by something other than an electronic device could only be enforced as a secondary offense, meaning another infraction such as an improper lane change would need to be observed to pull you over.
"It's a hands-free situation,” Batiste said. “Before you get in your vehicle, if you’re going to use GPS, get that started before you turn the key. If you're going to listen to music, get that all programmed and started before you head off down the roadways."
Using voice commands to make a phone call or get directions while the phone is in a cradle or connected to your car via Bluetooth is still allowed. Hands-free devices must not take more than "minimal" finger touches to activate or deactivate.
Using a CB radio is OK. Picking up the phone to call 911 in an emergency is a permissible exception.
Batiste said troopers are likely to give more lectures than tickets during the initial three to six months under the toughened law.
"Our first effort is to educate folks as we typically do with new laws," Batiste told reporters in Olympia Monday. "We go on a heavy emphasis of educating folks. So we'll give out a lot of warnings."
Another change from current law highlighted at a photo op and media event in Olympia Monday was that cell phone violations will be reportable to auto insurance companies from now on. Previously, cell phone tickets were exempted from disclosure to your insurance company.
A first ticket for driving under the influence of electronics—or E-DUI—will cost you at least $136. A second violation within five years will cost at least $236.
The stiffer consequences were welcomed by Tina Meyer of Arlington, who tearfully recounted how her 23-year-old son Cody was run down by a distracted driver in 2015 while he was working as a flagger in a construction zone near Issaquah. Cody eventually died from his injuries.
"By making this change in the law, it is going to save a lot of lives," Meyer said.