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Posted on: May 30, 2017

Cell Phone Law Goes Into Effect July 23, Making Phones in Hands Illegal While Driving

An image of a driver with a cell phone in use
The Mill Creek Police Department Traffic Safety Unit is advising drivers of a new cellular phone law that will go into effect on July 23.

“The new law, ‘Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act,’ essentially makes driving with your phone in your hand illegal,” said Mill Creek Police Officer Chris White.

Recently signed by Governor Jay Inslee, the law was scheduled to go into effect in 2019, but the Governor felt it “too important to wait” so he vetoed the 2019 date and signed the bill into law effective mid-July 2017.

This bill was created due to motorists becoming increasingly distracted by their cell phones. People check Facebook, read emails and watch videos while driving on Washington roadways. A study cited in the creation of this new law found that there was a 30 percent increase in distracted driving crashes from 2014 to 2015. Distracted driving is a factor in one-third of all traffic deaths in Washington, making it the third leading cause, just behind drug/ alcohol impairment and speed-related crashes.

“To put things into perspective, an average text takes your eyes off the road for 5 to 7 seconds,” said White. “That means your car can travel on the roadway the length of a football field and half without you having any idea what is happening in front or around you.”

The Driving under the Influence of Electronic Act lists several definitions that are important for motorists to understand. "Personal electronic device" means any portable electronic device that is capable of wireless communication or electronic data retrieval and is not manufactured primarily for hands-free use in a motor vehicle. This includes, but is not limited to, a cell phone, tablet, laptop, two-way messaging device or an electronic game. However, this does not include two-way radio, citizens band radio, or amateur radio equipment.

According to the law, “use” or “uses” is defined as “holding a personal electronic device in either hand or both hands; using your hand or finger to compose, send, read, view, access, browse, transmit, save, or retrieve email, text messages, instant messages, photographs, or other electronic data; or watching video on a personal electronic device.” Noteworthy, the law does allow minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate or initiate a function of the device.

“It is important for drivers to realize that this law is in effect even when the vehicle is temporarily stopped because of traffic or a stop light or stop sign,” said White.

This new law is considered a primary violation, meaning motorists can be stopped by law enforcement officers if they are seen violating the law.

“If you have a cell phone in your hand while you are driving a vehicle or stopped at a traffic signal, stop sign or for traffic on a roadway, you will be pulled over,” said White. “You can only use your cell phone with one finger when accessing applications such as Google maps or to decline a phone call. If you have your cellular phone in your hand, it is a ticket.”

Once the law takes effect, the standard traffic fine of $136 would apply to a first offense and will increase to $235 for a second offense. The first distracted-driving offense would also be reportable to insurance companies.

At the request of the governor, the Mill Creek Police Department and law enforcement agencies around the state will place an educational emphasis on this new law for the first six months that it is in effect. Officers still will have discretion to take enforcement action.

“The MCPD Traffic Safety Unit takes motoring safety seriously and we support this new law,” said White. “Unfortunately, we have investigated collisions involving distracted drivers and it was the type of collision investigation that didn’t need to happen. Please educate yourself and your teen drivers of this new law. In particular, we are asking parents to be examples to their driving teens and put the phone down. No text or email is important enough to put your life and the lives of those around you at risk.”

There are some exceptions to the law, including: use a device to summon emergency services; use by a driver operating an authorized emergency vehicle; a transit system employee using a system for time-sensitive relay communication with transit dispatch services; and a commercial motor vehicle driver who uses a device within the scope of an individual's employment as allowed by federal law.
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