Last May, many Washingtonians and members of the legislature were surprised when Governor Jay Inslee accelerated the new distracted driving law, the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics. The law is due to go into effect at the end of this month, and aims to prohibit nearly all hand-held items, such as cell phones and tablets. The new law completely forbids composing text, photography, or reading or viewing text or images while behind the wheel, unless you’ve pulled out of traffic and off of the roadway.
“Minimal use of a finger” is allowed to activate or stop navigation on a dash mounted smart phone. Similarly, 911 calls or calls to emergency services remain legal, along with built in electronic systems, CB radio or amateur radio equipment. Current law forbids simply texting or holding a phone to your ear, which drivers can circumvent by placing a phone in their lap or holding just beneath their chin.
If you’re someone who does their best to check your messages or phone at stop lights, you should probably just move your cell into your glovebox, as this is now a primary, ticketable offence. The first fine is $136 and the second is $235, which can be coupled with secondary offenses such as eating or paying too much attention to your pet, as any other primary offense can be. This is broadly defined as “any activity not related to the operation of a motor vehicle.”
This modernization of driving code is overdue. According to the CDC, nine people a day on average in the US die due to distracted driving, and more than a thousand a day are injured for the same reason. Considering this on a national scale gives us a mind-bogglingly high dollar figure for public services. On a personal spectrum, one death a day is too many, let alone nearly 3,300.
If death and dismemberment aren’t enough to dissuade you from snagging that call from your boss or text from your kid, maybe a higher insurance premium is. Pursuant to the new law, distracted driving citations will be reported on a motorists driving record.
Not only do drivers need to prepare themselves for the change that much sooner, but traffic enforcement does as well. Troopers and officers began handing out information cards to drivers basically as soon as the law went into effect, and educational campaigns have been underway.
There was a general reckoning among supporters that common sense items like leaving your cell alone while operating a vehicle shouldn’t need too much of a push by law enforcement. For instance, there was a general outcry when Click It or Ticket laws were written into law, and when smoking in cars with children – the literal act of puffing poison into the air feet from your children – was met with irritation and outrage. While still some others have pointed out that it was common sense to take such easy measures to protect your safety, such examples serve as a reminder that no everybody agrees.
However, knowing better and being caught in the act are no longer exclusive of each other. If you are caught, you will be fined.
The American driving culture is engrained in nearly all of us. While other countries were still developing roadways fit for four wheels and internal combustion engines, we were laying millions of miles of pavement. While some of us were raised on party lines and rotary phones, the generation hitting the road these days have been raised on texting and
the luxury of perfect connectivity, without the delayed satisfaction of returning a call from a note stuck to the fridge or having to collect messages from a plugged-in voicemail box. Life without caller ID is incomprehensible to some.
The new law will save lives, cut back on road rage from those camped behind distracted drivers, and will aid the state economy while the tickets flow fast and freely. To be safe, save some cash and contribute, hang up and drive.