Here’s a quick quiz on Washington’s new dangerously distracted driving law. Which of the following can get you pulled over and ticketed if a police officer sees you doing this while driving down the road?:
A. Eating a burger.
B. Drinking a latte.
C. Fixing your makeup in the rearview mirror.
D. Holding a dog in your lap.
E. All of the above.
F. None of the above.
Despite what you may have heard from friends or seen on social media, the answer is “F”.
None of those things, by themselves, will rate a ticket if you are minding the speed limit, obeying other traffic laws and not causing an accident.
If, however, you are involved in another moving violation or an accident while doing any of A through D, or any number of other things that distracted you from safely operating your car, you can get a second ticket, and an extra fine of $99.
On Friday, the Washington State Patrol and the state Traffic Safety Commission tried to clear up some misconceptions about the new law, which took effect last Sunday.
“There’s a lot of misinformation,” WSP Capt. Monica Alexander told reporters from around the state on a telephonic press conference.
Just how much misinformation might be demonstrated by an online petition started one week ago by Angela Cruze, of Kelso. It incorrectly equates eating, drinking or grooming with holding a cellphone while driving. Although the petition mentions those former actions are secondary offenses, it asserts eating, drinking and grooming should be “a citizen’s right when behind a wheel” and asks the governor to “rewrite” the law to remove those provisions.
Despite the fact that’s not what the law says – and governors don’t rewrite laws – the petition had collected more than 36,000 supporters by Friday.
The new dangerously distracted driving provisions are in a separate section of a new law that bans most uses of a smartphone while driving. But the law makes clear the two are different.
Driving under the influence of electronics, or DUI-E, is a primary offense that covers holding and operating your phone or other electronic device while driving. If a police officer sees you doing that, he or she can pull you over and write you a ticket. Right now, they are issuing warnings, but in a few months that will change.
But things like eating, drinking or grooming while driving are different under the law. A dangerously distracted driving citation can only be issued if you are pulled over for another moving violation or involved in an accident in which the officer determines that activity interfered with the safe operation of your car. You can’t get a ticket for doing any of these things if you are pulled over for something not related to driving, such as expired license tabs or a taillight that isn’t working.
The key is whether or not it’s related to how you are driving, Alexander said. If there’s a dog in your lap and you’re obeying all traffic laws, you wouldn’t get stopped, let alone ticketed. If the dog jumps out the window, you go to grab him and rear-end the car in front – and that has happened, she said – it’s a different story.
Even if you’re eating a burger when you get into an accident that isn’t you’re fault, you won’t get a dangerously distracted driving ticket.
“It goes to the totality of the circumstances,” she said.
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