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Driving and texting
Drivers in Washington state are encouraged to put their phones out of reach while driving. (Bigstock Photo / Jessmine)

Raise your empty hands if you’re paying attention. Good. Because state officials really don’t want you to be distracted this week when it comes to understanding that Washington’s new ban on the use of hand-held devices while driving goes into effect on Sunday.

For drivers who think they can handle a cell phone and the wheel at the same time, strict penalties enacted by the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act (E-DUI) aim to change that. Whether you’re cruising down an open road or stopped at a traffic light, the law allows for no hand-held talking, texting, picture taking and so on.

Drivers are allowed to use a device if they can do it hands free and can start a function with a single touch or swipe without holding the phone, according to details provided by the state’s Target Zero website. Exceptions are also made for those who are parked or out of the flow of traffic or contacting emergency services. The state recommends that you start your GPS or music before you hit the road.

Holding a cell phone to one’s ear or texting while driving are already prohibited under current Washington law. In 2016, the Washington State Patrol says it had 13,524 contacts for hand-held use of cell phones, and issued 6,377 citations. Troopers also contacted 3,369 motorists for texting and issued 1,564 citations. The state had 130 distracted driving deaths in 2014, 171 in 2015, and a preliminary estimate of 156 last year.

Distracted driving
(Washington Traffic Safety Commission Graphic)
Distracted driving
(Washington Traffic Safety Commission Graphic)

But there are many other ways people currently use their devices while driving and the E-DUI law addresses that.

An initial ticket will cost a driver $136, and the amount will increase with each infraction. A second E-DUI within five years will cost at least $272 according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

But don’t expect the State Patrol to raid the loose change compartment in your vehicle just yet. The agency says that the first six months after the law goes into effect will serve as a grace or education period for the new restrictions.

But they’ll still be going after you for violations to the law as it stands right now. Grooming, smoking, eating or reading — activities that could interfere with safe driving — might also lead to a $99 ticket if a driver is pulled over for another traffic offense.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill into law on May 17. It was originally supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, but Inslee bumped that date up. The governor joined officials at the State Capitol in Olympia, Wash., this week to get the word out.

“When you are driving while you are on a cellphone, you are more dangerous to yourself and everyone else on the road than a drunk driver with a .08 blood alcohol (level),” Inslee said. “We have a simple message today: Put the cellphones down.”

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