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Q&A: Washington’s texting, talking while driving laws change Thursday

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on June 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
June 8, 2010 5:42 pm

Thursday marks the effective date of Washington’s revised law on using mobile phones and texting while driving. In this special edition of Traffic Q&A, we answer some frequently asked questions about the law.

Got questions of your own?
Post them as a comment we’ll do our best to get them answered.

Isn’t it already a violation to text or have a cell phone on your ear while driving?

Yes. State laws banning texting while driving and requiring a hand-free device for talking on a mobile device while driving went into effect in 2008. But under the law, the violations were considered “secondary offenses,” citable only if an officer pulled you over for a another violation. Still, the Washington State Patrol has written about 3,000 tickets and given 5,900 warnings since the laws went into effect.

What’s new?

The 2010 Legislature made both texting and driving with a non hands-free cell phone primary offenses. That means police can pull you over if they see you texting or on the phone. The WSP has said troopers will immediately start enforcing the primary offense Thursday – it considers two years an ample grace period.

Drivers with instruction permits or intermediate licenses cannot use any type of wireless device while driving, except for emergencies.

What type of mobile phone use is covered by the law?

The law states “a person operating a moving motor vehicle while holding a wireless communications device to his or her ear is guilty of a traffic infraction.” It does not cover the use of a device in “hands-free mode” with a speaker, headset or earpiece.

Does this mean that hands-free devices are safe to use while driving?

No. Here’s how the Washington Traffic Safety Commission puts it: “This law is not meant to encourage the use of hands-free devices. Hands-free devices offer no safety benefit. Parking your phone is the only safe way to drive. Pulling to the shoulder to talk on the phone or text is rarely a safe option and should only be done in an emergency.”

Are there any other exemptions?

Yes. The law exempts:
■ Drivers of authorized emergency vehicles and tow trucks responding to disabled vehicles.
■ Drivers reporting illegal activity, calling for medical or emergency help or using the device to prevent injury to a person or property.
■ Transit and for-hire operators communicating by radio with their dispatch.
■ A driver using a hearing aid.

Who’s covered by texting ban?

A driver who “sends, reads, or writes a text message” using an electronic wireless communications device while operating a moving motor vehicle.

Is dialing a phone considered texting?

No, the law exempts a driver who “reads, selects, or enters a phone number or name … for the purpose of making a phone call.”

How about using my dashboard navigation system?

The law exempts “a voice-operated global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the vehicle and that allows the user to send or receive messages without diverting visual attention from the road or engaging the use of either hand.”

What’s the penalty for an infraction?

A ticket will cost you $124. It will not go on your driving record or be reported to your employer or insurance company.

Here’s a copy of the bill as it passed the Legislature: Senate Bill 6345

Sources: News Tribune archives, Substitute Senate Bill 6345, bill report, Washington Department of Licensing, Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Washington State Patrol.

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