Distracted Driving & Cell Phones

Driving While Using Electronic Devices

In the last few months, you may have heard some of the buzz surrounding Washington’s new E-DUI law. Also known as the new “Distracted Driving” law, the new policy was just recently implemented in late July of 2017. Texting while driving or holding the phone to your ear while driving has been illegal in the state of Washington for some time now, but you may not be as familiar with the new restrictions posed by the Electronic-DUI law that is starting to gain steam across the state. You may be wondering: what exactly is an E-DUI and is it really worth fighting if I get cited for one? The answers to these questions might surprise you.

As mentioned earlier, on July 23, 2017, Washington state became one of the few states to ban virtually all use of hand-held electronic devices while driving in an effort to decrease distracted driving. In the last several year’s research on distracted driving, particularly with the use of cellphones, has rendered some staggering statistics. In Washington state alone, fatalities from distracted driving increased by 32% from 2014 to 2015. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 3,400 people in the United States were killed in auto accidents that involved a distracted driver in 2015, not to mention the over 391,000 people that were also injured in a crash involving a distracted driver. With these numbers, it makes sense that lawmakers and law enforcement alike would want to do whatever they can do minimize the number of distracted drivers on the road. The goal of the new E-DUI law was not only to help fight what some are now calling an epidemic in our country but also to educate drivers on the dangers of distracted driving in hopes of preventing unnecessary fatalities and injuries.

So, what actions and behaviors are specifically prohibited by the new law? What are you allowed and not allowed to do while you are behind the wheel?

What’s NOT Allowed (Even at a Red Light)

  1. Hand-held use of a cell phone (or electronic device such as a tablet, laptop, or video game) while driving.
  2. Typing messages or accessing information while driving.
  3. Watching videos or using electronic device cameras while driving.

So, what exactly do they mean by “hand-held use of a cell phone” and what specifies “while driving?” Let’s clarify. You can get pulled over for holding a cell phone or other electronic device in your hand while driving, no matter the purpose. You cannot hold the phone to your ear, send or receive text messages, surf the web, check your email, watch YouTube, or snap a selfie even while you are stopped at a red light. So, what about those folks that use their cell phone as a GPS device to get directions to a new location, is that allowed? The answer is really yes and no.

Yes, you can use an electronic device for driving directions. No, you cannot hold that device in your hand while you are driving. So, if you are a person that likes to hold your phone in your hand to view directions, you will need to find a way to either mount your phone or place it somewhere where it can be viewed while driving that is completely hands-free. What happens if you need to change directions while you are driving or you get lost? Well, you will need to pull over outside of the flow of traffic or park somewhere to adjust your device. While this might seem inconvenient, it is likely the best idea if you want to avoid being cited with an E-DUI ticket. A good idea is to start your GPS device or driving directions on your phone before you get on the road so you won’t have to mess with them while you are driving. Even when you are stopped at a red light, use of an electronic device is prohibited unless it is completely hands-free and you can be ticketed regardless of the reason.

What is allowed

  1. Hands-free functions, like Bluetooth calling, are still okay but only with one touch or swipe (see clarification below).
  2. Using a cell phone to contact emergency services and/or call 911.
  3. Using a CB radio if you are a commercial or emergency services driver.

There is a bit of confusing language in the policy that mentions certain actions being allowed with either “one touch” or “one swipe,” but what does that mean exactly? Here are a few examples. Let’s say you are using a hands-free Bluetooth headset while driving and your phone rings. It is okay to answer that call by either touching the phone or the headset as long as you can do it with just one touch and without holding the phone itself. How about a different situation. Let’s say you are using your phone to play music while driving and a song comes on that you don’t want to hear. It is okay to skip that song or turn off the music as long as you can do so with just one touch (or swipe) and you do not have to pick up or hold your phone to do it. However, you cannot then proceed to browse through your playlist to choose a song by scrolling through your phone’s options. To avoid a potential ticket, the best policy is really just to set your music to play Before getting on the road, just like you would with your GPS and driving directions.

The new E-DUI law clearly shows some differences from the more lax Cell Phone Use While Driving infraction that has been a part of the Revised Code of Washington for some time. Overall, the new law allows for very minimal handheld device use while driving — but that’s not all. With the new law comes not one, but two new infraction possibilities. If you receive a ticket for an E-DUI, it is likely that you will be cited under RCW 46.61.672 (Using a Personal Electronic Device While Driving). The first time you are cited with this infraction the ticket fine is already pretty hefty at $136 but if you are cited for this same infraction for the 2nd time (within a five year period), the ticket fine increases to a whopping $234!

What’s more, as a secondary offense, you can also be cited with the new Dangerously Distracted Driving infraction under RCW 46.61.673 for activities such as eating, smoking, applying makeup, or reading while driving. There seems to be more confusion and uncertainty among drivers when it comes to this statute compared to the E-DUI statute. For example, you might be wondering: Does this mean I can’t drink my coffee on the way to work anymore or eat my fries after running through the drive-thru for lunch? Again, the answer is really yes and no. All of the activities mentioned above are considered secondary offenses, which means you can’t be pulled over just for doing them on their own. A primary traffic offense such as speeding, failure to yield, or improper passing is usually committed in conjunction with a secondary offense. So, if you are pulled over for speeding and the officer sees that your focus on the road and the speed limit was affected by the fact that you were enjoying a delicious Big Mac while driving, then you could be ticketed not only for the speeding violation but also for the secondary offense of Dangerously Distracted Driving under RCW 46.61.673. Getting cited for Dangerously Distracted Driving comes with a $99 ticket fine. While this lower fine may seem a bit easier to swallow, keep in mind that you if the officer decides to cite you for both the primary offense you were originally pulled over for (i.e., speeding) and the secondary offense of Dangerously Distracted Driving the fines for both are added together, and you could easily be looking at ticket fines of $200 or more for just one infraction.

While these secondary offenses may seem like overkill to some, the goal of lawmakers and law enforcement is again to decrease the number of distracted drivers on the road in hopes of also decreasing the number of accidents caused by those that are distracted while driving. So, if you are going to eat your breakfast while driving, that is still okay but just make sure you are staying focused on the road while doing it and not committing any other traffic offenses that could get you pulled over. The bottom line is that if law enforcement personnel believes that you committed a traffic offense because you were dangerously distracted by any activity unrelated to the operation of your vehicle, they can, and very well may, ticket you for distracted driving under RCW 46.61.673.

Now that we’ve gone over a bit about what the new E-DUI and Dangerously Distracted Driving laws are, your next question is probably: If I get one of these new tickets, is it worth fighting? The answer to that is — YES. Absolutely! In addition to the differences in the new laws versus the older Cell Phone Use While Driving mentioned above, there are also differences in their impact on your insurance rates. The previous infraction of Cell Phone Use While Driving was considered to be a non-moving violation (unless you had a CDL or an intermediate license). Therefore, drivers that did not have a CDL or intermediate license who were cited for either RCW 46.61.667 (Texting While Driving) or RCW 46.61.668 (Cell Phone Use While Driving), did not have to worry about their insurance company finding out because the violation was not reported to the Department of Licensing. If you just paid the ticket fine or fought it in court and lost, a committed finding under the old law ultimately would not have affected your insurance rates. However, that is not the case for the new E-DUI law.

If you are found to have committed an E-DUI infraction in the state of Washington, the violation will be available to insurance companies and your premiums could increase dramatically. Since committed traffic infractions stay on your driving record for three years in the state of Washington, depending on your insurance policy, a committed finding on an E-DUI could translate to an overall cost of $1000 or more in the long run. Therefore, if you receive a citation for an E-DUI or Dangerously Distracted Driving, we highly recommend that you do not just pay the ticket, even though this may seem like the cheaper option. We understand that hiring an attorney to fight the infraction may cost more than the ticket itself, but in the long run, it is an investment that will save you a significant amount in lowered insurance rates. An article posted in Forbes showed that getting just a single traffic ticket could potentially raise your insurance rates by as much as 22%! With the new laws E-DUI’s and Dangerously Distracted Driving tickets now going on a driver’s record and being available to insurance companies, these tickets can be added to list of reasons your insurance company might increase your rates.

Now you might be thinking that you still have time to fix your habits. After all, some counties and agencies have mentioned that they will honor a grace period of 6 months or more for drivers pulled over for an E-DUI. Yes, that is true; however, a there are some law enforcement agencies in the Puget Sound area that are not allowing a grace period. In just the first week of the new law’s implementation, 27 drivers were cited for E-DUI’s by the Washington State Patrol, and over 300 drivers were pulled over for the offense. If you haven’t changed your habits yet, you could be next. We know that getting cited for an E-DUI or Dangerously Distracted Driving can be frustrating — not to mention expensive — but here at Garguile DUI & Traffic Lawyers, PLLC we can help. We have already fought (and won) numerous E-DUI cases since the new law was implemented just two months ago. We have the experience and the know how to keep this infraction off of your driving record and keep it from affecting your insurance rates. So, if you happen to get cited with an E-DUI or Dangerously Distracted Driving ticket, give us a call right away at [number]. We can help fight the ticket for you, and you won’t even have to appear in court.

As a final note, while it may be tempting, the next time you go to pick up your cell phone or electronic device while you are driving, try to keep these frightful statistics in mind. Each day in the United States, approximately nine people are killed, and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver. Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it visually takes your eyes off the road, manually takes your hands off the wheel, and cognitively takes your mind off of driving. If you engage in distracted driving by using your cell phone while you are behind the wheel, you could not only be ticketed for an E-DUI but more importantly, you could endanger the lives of others and yourself. So the next time you hear that ping from your phone that signals a new text message, I remind you to ask yourself: Is picking up my phone really worth the potential consequences?