The state of Washington’s legislative body just made it possible for drivers to be ticketed for DUIE — Driving Under the Influence of Electronics. In a move to give its campaign against driving distracted more teeth, provisions of the new law went into effect at the end of July.
The legislation was fast-tracked and signed into law ahead of schedule when Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the section that was to enact the law in 2019, implementing it now. He noted, “Public safety is better served by implementing this bill this year.”
Before, it was only illegal to hold a phone to one’s ear while driving. Now, simply holding an electronic device is forbidden, as is using a hand or finger to compose, send, read, view, access, browse, transmit, save, or retrieve email, text messages, instant messages, photographs or other electronic data. The measure still allows “the minimal use of a finger” to activate, deactivate, or initiate the function of a personal electronic device, and there is also an exemption allowing phone use for emergency contact of 911 or law agencies.
And don’t expect to engage texting or surfing legally while stopped at a red light — that’s also a no-no. Only use of hands-free or voice-activated devices is allowed under the new law. The monetary penalty attached to the infraction will be $136, escalating to $234 for an additional citation within five years.
Another section of the new law specifies blanket coverage of driving dangerously distracted, targeting distraction borne of the “old fashioned” distractions like reading, grooming, smoking or eating. Content of the law describes “dangerously distracted” as engaging in “any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of such motor vehicle on any highway.”
Those things are classified as secondary offenses if undertaken while driving. That means if you are driving perfectly while performing other tasks such as applying makeup, shaving, eating, shooing insects, or disciplining children, you won’t be pulled over. But if you cross the center line, speed or follow too closely (primary offenses) while doing those things you can be cited for both the primary and secondary offenses. The secondary offense will reportedly add $99 to your penalty.
So, you can still have a latte in your cup holder, but if you weave to the shoulder every time you take a drink, you should improve your multi-tasking ability or skip the drink.
I’ve heard from some drivers that the new law is petty, but I don’t agree. Driving is a serious endeavor and devoting full cognition to the task is crucial to everyone’s safety. Any campaign to place focus on that reality is a worthy effort.
Those who say things like, “I can’t even talk to my passengers anymore without getting a ticket” are incorrect. They cannot talk to their passengers without getting a ticket if doing so causes them to drive “dangerously distracted” and a police officer spots their driving errors.
Texting, checking social media and internet surfing are rightfully getting recent attention as dangerous distractions, but other distractions have been causing crashes and taking lives since the advent of automobiles.
As an element of Washington’s Target Zero campaign (aiming for zero state traffic deaths by 2030), I believe lawmakers have taken a positive step by bringing attention to the importance of avoiding driving distractions.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.