The Issaquah Police Department is issuing warnings for distracted driving violations for the first month of the new law. Photo courtesy of Doug Anter

Distracted driving decoded

Issaquah Police Department to allow 30-day grace period for new law

Keeping her hands on the wheel and eyes mostly on the road, a woman sips coffee through a three-foot-long straw attached to a Starbucks cup in her car’s cup-holder.

Sound a bit far-fetched? That’s because it’s a meme — just one of the many that has been cropping up on social media since Washington’s new distracted driving law went into effect July 23. In the wake of the new law, it may seem hard to figure out what’s real with all of the rumors and misinformation floating around.

Substitute Senate Bill 5289, which was signed into law on May 16 by Governor Jay Inslee, prohibits Washington drivers from holding a cell phone while driving, even if they are stopped in traffic.

It may sound like it’s not too different from the former law, which prohibited talking on the phone or texting while driving. However, this new act goes a step further.

Previously, the acts of holding your cell phone up to your ear or typing information into your phone while driving had been illegal, but it had technically been within the law to hold a phone while driving and, for example, conduct a conversation over speakerphone. What the new law does is eliminate that possibility of the speakerphone conversation while holding the phone at your chin.

“[We] want to keep the cell phone or any electronic device out of the hands of drivers … We want them to be focused on the road,” Issaquah Police Officer John Lindner said.

In an article in April, which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the Reporter shared that holding a phone conversation while driving makes you four times more likely to be in an accident, while looking at your phone while driving increases your chance of being in an accident by 23 times.

There is a saving grace for phone addicts, however — the new law does allow for the use of a phone that is secured in a dashboard phone cradle, and even states that the “minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of the device” is permissible.

“The only way to access your cell is if it’s attached to your car … If you get a call and you need to touch one button to answer, that’s what we’re looking for,” Lindner said.

This means that if you can pull up your map or start your music with just a swipe of the finger and voice commands, you’re in the clear — though law enforcement would rather have you start your navigation or playlist before you begin driving.

A cell phone citation is considered an E-DUI (Driving under the Influence of Electronics), and will cost you $136, or $234 if it’s your second one within five years. Having the letters DUI in the ticket name may seem extreme, but Sammamish Police Deputy Kyle Rip told the Reporter in April that distracted driving is actually very similar to drunk driving, and just as dangerous. All E-DUI citations will be available for insurance companies to view.

The law does not just stop with electronic distractions, however. Any kind of distraction that removes your concentration from the road — drinking a latte, eating a hamburger, putting on mascara, rifling through a bag, smoking a cigarette — is now against the law and will be treated as a secondary offense.

Much of the confusion, such as the aforementioned meme, comes from this part of the law. According to some rumors, if you take a sip from your water bottle on a 90-degree day, the next minute you’ll see the flashing lights of dread in your rear-view mirror.

Actually, unless you were committing another infraction at the same time, such as speeding, you’ll be fine. A secondary offense is not an offsense for which you can be pulled over. It is an additional infraction that can be added on to your ticket if you are pulled over for a primary offense. Secondary offenses cost $99 each under the new law.

“If we happen to be behind someone who is all over the road … and we see they’re eating something, drinking something … we can stop them for the lane violation” and add on the secondary offense, Lindner explained.

Luckily, if you’re in Issaquah, you get a grace period to get used to the new law. Lindner said that command staff has asked officers to issue warnings rather than E-DUI citations for the first month.

“We’ll stop them and educate them for the first 30 days,” he said.

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