Hands off: Distracted driving law takes effect

Drivers in Washington will need to keep their hands off their phones while on the road or face a potential fine starting Sunday, July 23.

Legislator approved the new law prohibiting holding electronic devices while driving earlier this year. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the legislation in May, vetoing a section that would have made the law take effect in 2019.

Drivers will still be able to use hands-free devices if it takes a single touch or swipe of a finger to activate, but can’t type messages or access information while in traffic. Drivers out of the flow of traffic, parked or using their device to contact emergency services would not face a fine.

The first offense carries the potential for a $136 traffic fine, and increases to $234 for additional violations.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Rick Johnson said WSP will spend the first six months after the law takes effect educating motorists.

“Obviously, when we stop people for that violation, we’ll be educating them on that new law,” Johnson said. “The only thing we’re not going to issue a ticket for is the new part of the law, where it’s a one swipe/one touch part of the law.”

The Seattle Police Department reports it will also primarily be focused on educating drivers at the onset of new law, but citations will be issued if deemed necessary.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports this year there have been 27 distracted-driving fatalities since April, and 521 serious injuries. Distracted driving was a factor in nearly three of every 10 traffic fatalities between 2011 and 2015, according to WTSC.

In a 2016 distracted driving observational survey that recorded 22,322 vehicles at 6,279 Washington intersections, WTSC determined the state’s driver-distraction rate at 9.2 percent.

There is also a $99 fine that can be imposed on motorists distracted by smoking, grooming or eating.