It’s time for Valley drivers to hang up the phone while on the road. Washington State’s new distracted driving law began on Sunday, July 23, setting new rules in regard to the use of electronic devices and other distractions while driving.
The Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUIE) Act was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 16, making the use of a hand-held cell phone or other electronic device a primary traffic offense. That means an officer can pull over a vehicle if he or she sees a driver holding a device, even while at a red light or stop sign.
The law went into effect Sunday, July 23, much sooner than initially intended. It was originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, 2019, but Inslee felt that was too far away and the issue of distracted driving needed to be addressed sooner, said Snoqualmie Police Chief Perry Phipps.
The new law also details new secondary offenses such as eating, drinking, brushing teeth and other grooming. Drivers can’t be pulled over for secondary offenses, but those offenses will be taken into account if a driver is stopped for another traffic violation.
The law defines the use of an electronic device as using one or two hands to “compose, send, read, view, access, browse, transmit, save or retrieve email, text messages, instant messages, photographs, or other electronic data.”
Phipps said that with this law, the police department will be trying to help change the behavior of drivers in a time that distracted driving is more prevalent than ever.
“The direction that I’m going to give is that we are going to try to change the behavior, educate the public on the new law,” Phipps said. “The governor signed this to be implemented on Sunday, there was a reason why he decided Jan. 1 of 2019, which was originally put on his desk, was not soon enough… this is an important public safety issue and therefore we will be actively going out to try to find violators.”
Some police departments in the state are rolling out the law with several-week grace periods. Washington State Patrol has planned for a six-month grace period, Bellevue Police have indicated they will give warnings for two weeks while the King County Sheriff’s Office and Redmond Police declared they will issue citations immediately.
Chief Phipps said that Snoqualmie and North Bend won’t have grace periods, and while education about the law is important, sometimes enforcement of the new law through a citation is the best education.
“We are still going to use our judgment on issuing citations, I think that the first goal of ours is to make sure that the people are safe,while they are driving, we have a lot of people walking, riding bikes, skateboarding and so forth in this community,” he said. “Changing the behavior by education is our goal. If that takes a warning, that’s great, if it takes a citation to get that accomplished then we will have to do that.”
A DUIE ticket will cost $136 according to the new law. If a driver commits a second infraction within five years of the first, that price will be doubled.
There are few exceptions to the rule which includes making an emergency 911 call or “minimal use of a finger” which is defined as a single tap of the device to activate it; anything more complicated is a violation of the law.
Phipps said that the officers in his department will do their best to provide the best public safety service possible for North Bend and Snoqualmie.
“The way we handle police services in both North Bend and Snoqualmie is going to be mirrored,” he said. “We want the public to be safe in both communities and so we are going to do what we think is best to make that happen.”