OLYMPIA — Texting or holding a phone to your ear is already against the law in Washington state, but soon Washington drivers will be prohibited from doing all the other stuff some do while driving or sitting in traffic: checking Facebook, reading emails or anything else that requires them to hold their electronic devices while behind the wheel.
The measure, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday in Tacoma, prohibits holding an electronic device — including phones, tablets and other electronic gadgets — while driving, including while in traffic or waiting for a traffic light to change.
Inslee vetoed a section that had the measure take effect in 2019. He said it was too important to wait for the provisions to take effect, so the law will now take effect in mid-July.
Under the measure, “the minimal use of a finger” to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a personal electronic device while driving will still be allowed.
Current law in Washington state only prohibits texting or holding a phone to the ear while driving.
The new expanded law will make the public safer, Inslee said. “All too often from our own cars, we see other drivers reading their cellphones — and cross our fingers,” he said in prepared remarks at the signing.
Once the measure takes effect, the standard traffic fine of $136 would apply to a first offense but would increase to about $235 for a second offense. The first distracted driving offense would also be reportable to insurance companies, which could raise rates like any other moving violation.
Another section of the new law also says a person who engages in “any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle” is subject to pay an additional fine of $100. It only applies if an officer catches a driver being distracted while committing a standard traffic offense, such as running a stop sign because their coffee spilled or a pet jumped in their lap.
Exemptions under the law include using an electronic device to contact emergency services, or operating an amateur radio station or two-way or citizens band radio services.
Also signed by Inslee on Tuesday was a measure that would make a fourth driving under the influence offense a felony in Washington state. The new law allows prosecutors to file felony charges if a person gets a fourth DUI within 10 years. Existing law requires four misdemeanor DUI convictions over 10 years before the fifth offense can be charged as a felony.