New Handheld Device Law: What Washington Drivers Need to Know

Driving with a Device

A new law in Washington makes use of handheld electronic devices illegal – in any capacity – even at the red light.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee recently accelerated the enforcement of the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUIE) Act. The Act now forbids virtually all use of handheld gadgets such as phones, tablets, laptop computers and gaming devices while driving.

In its statewide observational survey of distracted drivers, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission found cell phone use is the most common type of distraction, with 71% of distracted drivers engaged with their phones while operating their vehicles. The survey also found 1 out of 10 drivers in Washington State are distracted while driving, and fatalities from distracted driving increased 32% from 2014 to 2015.

Although texting or holding a cellphone to your ear while driving was already illegal in the state of Washington, motorists often skirted the rules by holding their phones between their legs or below their necks. The new law now makes handheld use in any capacity illegal – and drivers cannot use handheld devices while at stop signs or red-light signals. Drivers are still allowed to use a mounted hands-free phone, and may also use minimal touch features in order to operate apps such as a smartphone’s navigation app. Handheld devices may also be used if the driver has pulled off the roadway or traffic lanes, where the vehicle “can safely remain stationary.”

A DUIE is a primary offense, and a ticket for distracted-driving might raise one’s insurance rates, as it will be reported on a motorist’s record. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, a standard fine of $126 will apply for first time offenders, and rise to $235 for a second offense. Miscellaneous distractions will be a secondary offense, with the penalty being an extra $30.

Bottom line: Keep your eyes on the road and your electronic devices safely tucked away.