TACOMA, Wash. – Drivers in Washington state have about six weeks to figure out how to stop using a cellphone while behind the wheel.
The new electronic distracted driving law goes into effect this summer with increased penalties.
The old law on the books only outlawed texting and holding the phone up to the ear, while the new law is more forbidding considering the many social media applications found on smartphones today.
The Washington State Patrol also said there are still some activities that troopers see people doing behind the wheel that is not technically illegal but can still be dangerous.
Ask nearly any driver and they complain what other people do behind the wheel can be downright dangerous.
“Someone on their phone merging over, not really looking,” said driver Amelia Mendenhall.
“I got into a wreck because this lady was on her phone and not paying attention, she swerved into my lane and took me out,” said commuter Mario Aristondo.
Those reasons are why Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed into law a new electronic distracted driving bill.
“It usually causes rear-end collisions and we see a lot of those out here on the freeways,” said WSP Trooper Franklin Olsen.
The number of crashes connected to distracted driving has steadily climbed over the past few years in our state. And in 2016, drivers caused several deaths from Thurston to Snohomish counties. The fatalities are what the new distracted driving bill hopes to drive downward.
“Holding your phone, entering information and texting” will soon be considered illegal, according to Olsen.
Beginning July 1, doing nearly anything with your cellphone while behind the wheel could get drivers slapped with a hefty fine and a second offense gets even more expensive.
But there are other activities police warn drivers can technically legally do that could cause wrecks.
“We see people grooming themselves, combing hair, looking in mirror, putting on make-up,” said Olsen.
Police said the new law is intended to remind drivers the most important focus behind the wheel should be the road. And when drivers see a violator troopers remind people to leave enforcement to police.
“You know road rage isn’t healthy either so I try not to get mad,” said Mendenhall. “I’m just thankful we have legislation that’s doing something about it now.”
“If they could just put their phone away for like five minutes while they get to destination, it’d really help out,” said Aristondo.
WSP’s education campaign begins July 1 with a 6-month long grace period intended to make sure drivers know what is legal and what is not. But come 2018, anyone caught messing cellphones behind the wheel could be ticketed.