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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 with 12 Comments »
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.

Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. Im eating a snickers bar while driving down the road.I look at the candy bar to read the nutritional value label.Am I guilty of breaking the law?if so what kind of traffic ticket can Johnny Law cite me with?

  2. zombiehooliganfc says:

    What if I am driving down the road and I am reading license plates, signs, bumperstickers, maps, and other things? Is that illegal? What about driving when the sun is on the horizon and makes it so drivers cannot see? Isn’t there more danger and actualy accidents related to the sun coming around the fife curve than anything associated with talking on the phone? Shouldn’t they make it illegal to drive when the sun is in certain positions in the sky? Isn’t this law just more about people road-raging and getting mad at others than it is abotu anything else?

  3. When I read comment like this its no wonder I see the insanity I see on our local roads!

    If your reading a snickers bar or eating it …Yes it IS against the law….has been probably before I read it in a Washington State 1971 Edition of Traffic Laws….Yes folks, the BIG manual…not that little guide you read to get your license.

    As far as driving down the road looking at license plates, bumperstickers, maps and other things….Yes its illegal…It’s called distracted driving. and if you REALLY read a map while driving…I hope we are not on the same road and you should be ashamed of yourself!

    As far as the need to “clear up confusion” …What on earth is so confusing!

    I’m surrounded by fools!

  4. Am I really the only person who has found that messing with head sets is 100 times more dangerous then holding the phone?

    Are these legislators STOOPD, Insane, or both??

    I have never come close to an accident from talking on my phone. I have had several dangerous close calls trying to comply with this STUPID DANGEROUS law by putting headphones on & driving at the same time.

    And no, I am not going to wear headphones 24/7. Driving time is quality music listening time..

    On a similar topic, I’m just waiting for the driver behind me to start a fist fight because I also obey the idiotic traffic cameras of 20 at school zones. Since I have no idea just how poorly they’re calibrated (ha ha ha), I slow to 15. I don’t have the time to go to court to protest a miscalibrated camera. Does the city give a hoot? HA HA HA HA HA HA! Aren’t we supposed to be boycotting Arizona……

  5. m9078jk3 says:

    Driving to me is to safely get from point A to Point B and back.
    I don’t consider my vehicle a phone booth nor fiddle with listening to music.
    I would only consider using a cell phone in my car for emergency purposes only.

  6. This law seems rather insulting and condescending toward the average citizen. Do you think anyone wants to get in an accident? No – they don’t. I think drivers are pretty savvy about self-preservation in determining when they use the phone. Self-preservation and sense of danger is a basic instinct. To think that the average citizen lacks such inherent decision-making is condescending.

  7. Kevindot1 says:

    Daisee, I think you are giving the general public way too much credit here.

  8. TonyCrago says:

    If you don’t like the laws, put down your copy of “Double Wide Trailer Life” and go do something about it. VOTE. Get a job. Stop sniveling.

  9. The law mentions that anyone operating ham radios with a license are exempt from this law. The law doesn’t include or exempt users of CB (citizen band) radios. I suppose since they are not wireless then they are exempt. I don’t think that many of these infractions will hold up in court. I think that the law is clearly an invasion of privacy. The state is clearly looking to take more money from the people and nothing else.

  10. So, if I put my hand to my ear and scratch it then I will get pulled over and be given a fine. This law is as stupid as the people that enacted it.

  11. Nicedad2000 says:

    Dcr628 I couldn’t have said it better. I’m glad to know there are some sane people on the road. The rest of you whiners that don’t like this law…I’m going to laugh out loud when I see you in traffic court crying for a fine reduction.

  12. If you’re right about ham radios…….. that’s one powerful pork lobby. They’re much more dangerous in a car then a phone.

    Oh & Tony, I do vote. We have not been given the opportunity to vote on cell phones or traffic cameras by the GREEDY politicians. And this one isn’t a dem vs rep issue. They’re both greedy beyond belief.

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