In April, both houses of the Washington State Legislature succeeded in a passing a long-anticipated update to our state’s distracted driving law. The bill they passed will expand the definition of distracted driving from merely holding a phone to your ear or texting to include holding any electronic device while driving or stopped at a light. “Minimal use of a finger” to turn a function on your phone on or off will still be allowed. It will also increase the fines on the second distracted-driving offense from $136 to $235 and allow the first offense to be reported to an insurance company. Non-electronic distractions like eating while driving are only covered in the bill under a $100 fine that can be added to a standard traffic offense, not on their own.
This piece of legislation is urgently required if our state is to make progress in eliminating deaths and serious injuries on our roads. In 2015, the data shows that in Washington, nearly one-third of traffic deaths were attributable to distracted driving. Before the bill passed the Washington House, an amendment was added that moved the date of implementation from January 1, 2018 to the same date in 2019, a delay of more than 600 days from the bill passage date.