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New Washington distracted driving law starts July 23


Are you ready to be “hands-free” while driving in Washington? In just a few weeks, a tougher distracted driving law with increased penalties will go into effect in Washington state. As a driver, it’s important to know what the new law prohibits and what it will cost if you’re ticketed for a distracted driving violation.

When Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill enacted by the Washington Legislature during the 2017 session (SB 5289), he vetoed the section that gave drivers until 2019 to acclimate to the changes and instead declared Sunday, July 23, 2017 as the law’s effective date. That’s when distracted driving behaviors ranging from eating while driving to answering a text at a stoplight could land drivers a hefty fine.

“With distraction-related crashes and fatalities on the rise in Washington, insurers are pleased to join with law enforcement and traffic safety experts to raise awareness of this welcome new law,” said Kenton Brine, president of NW Insurance Council. “We all must help change drivers’ attitudes about cell phone use and other distracted behaviors while behind the wheel; to improve highway safety, reduce crashes and help manage rising claims costs that have impacted the cost of insurance for policyholders.”

The NW Insurance Council and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s Target Zero campaign outline what the distracted driving bill allows and does not allow and how much it will cost for disobeying the new law:

Not Allowed:

· Drivers may not use hand-held cell phones while they are driving. That means no texting, reading messages, scrolling social media sites or talking on the phone with the device in hand.

· Drivers may not use hand-held cell phones while stopped in traffic or at a stop light. This includes all electronic devices such as tablets, laptops, games and other hand-held devices.

· No viewing videos or using cameras while driving.

· Distractions that interfere with safe driving such as grooming, smoking, eating or reading is prohibited and can result in a fine if you are pulled over for another traffic offense.


· Drivers can use hand-held devices when they are parked or out-of-the-flow of traffic.

· Drivers can use their electronic device if they are contacting emergency services.

· Hands-free use, through Bluetooth for example, is allowed.

· Drivers can use an electronic device so long as it’s hands-free (mounted on a dashboard cradle, for example) and can be started using a single touch to activate a program, such as a GPS.


· Using a handheld device while driving is considered a primary offense under the new law. The first ticket for a distracted driving offense will cost at least $136. A second ticket within five years will cost at least $234.

· Distracted driving violations can now be reported to insurance companies to use for rating and underwriting purposes.

· Drivers can get a $99 ticket for other types of distracted driving, such as grooming, smoking, eating or reading, if they are pulled over for another traffic offense.

The Oregon Legislature has also approved a new, stricter distracted driving law. Last week, the Oregon Senate approved and sent to Gov. Kate Brown HB 2597, a measure that forbids drivers from touching any electronic device and imposes much higher fines for violations. If caught once, a driver can take a distracted driving course to remove the citation from their driving record. A second violation, however, could result in a $2,000 fine while a third violation could have a driver facing not only a big fine, but jail time as well.

“Washington and Oregon – two states that lead the nation’s innovative technology industries – are now also updating laws to keep up with the challenges that sometimes come as a side-effect of that technology,” Brine said. “That’s a good thing for all of us who believe in safe roadways, responsible drivers and reasonable insurance rates.”

For more information about distracted driving and auto insurance, contact NW Insurance Council at 800-664-4942 or visit


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