In 2017, Washington State took a big step towards tougher regulations on distracted driving.
Prior to the new law that was enacted in the summer of 2017, Washington had already made texting or holding a phone to the driver’s ear illegal while driving.
However, the law has been expanded into much more than that, and it is important that drivers understand what this means.
1. What Is The E-DUI?
In the Spring of 2017, the Washington state legislature expanded the already-strict distracted driving law to forbid handling a phone while behind the wheel for any reason at all.
This even included while at a stop in traffic or while at a red light. Previously, the law had simply forbidden texting and calling someone while driving.
This new law essentially makes it illegal to use a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle.
So long as the driver is in the flow of traffic, he or she is to not even touch the cell phone. If the driver wants to use an electronic device, he or she is expected to pull over and do so once out of traffic.
In addition, the law also makes it possible that a driver can be ticketed for any activity that causes the driver to be distracted and possibly drive poorly as a result, such as drinking, brushing one’s hair, eating or any other type of activity that does not include driving.
The law now classifies all of these actions as an “E-DUI.” Like driving under the influence of alcohol, the driver is “driving under the influence of electronics.”
The violation is also considered a “primary offense”, which means that police can stop you if it looks like you’ve broken the E-DUI law.
2. What Are The E-DUI Penalties?
An E-DUI infraction works on graduated scale. It starts with an initial fine of $136. A second offense and any subsequent offenses within five years will be a $234 fine.
Unlike the previous cell phone violations, a driver who receives an E-DUI will see it placed on his or her driving record, which will also be reported to the insurance provider and could very easily increase insurance premiums.
The additional activities not related to operating a car, as mentioned before, such as smoking or eating will end up with a fine of $99.
The reason for this new law? A distraction is a distraction, no matter what.
3. What Are The Exceptions?
Like so much of the law, however, there are exceptions to the rule. Drivers can use a phone while driving so long as it is “hands-free” and requires very minimal finger touching.
The driver can swipe the phone to turn it on but nothing more than that. So long as the driver keeps the phone in a cradle and uses only voice commands to operate the GPS or make calls, he or she should be in the clear.
Of course, the law does allow an exception for drivers who need to call 911 in the event of an emergency.
If the car is out of traffic and not in use, the driver can use the electronic device. However, the driver must be parked and completely outside of traffic.
If he or she needs to use a GPS to access directions, this needs to happen out of traffic and before the car starts moving.
Drivers who use a CB or two-way radio are also excluded from the law. Similarly, police officers, emergency workers or firefighters are exempt from the law, while in the line of their duties.
4. What To Do If Charged With An E-DUI
Keep in mind that the law is still relatively new and has not been fully litigated. The term “DUI” normally comes with negative connotations, and an E-DUI is no exception.
This offense will be on the driver’s record for the long haul so it so it is important that the driver do whatever can be done to minimize the damage once receiving the initial ticket.
Because the law is so new, it is recommended that the driver contact a criminal attorney to discuss his or her rights and see how would be the best way to approach the situation.
With the first offense or even second, the ticket might be flawed, and beatable. No matter what, though, the offense should not be taken seriously.
While it may not be something as taboo as alcohol or drugs, distracted driving is now being treated seriously and drivers should seek experienced legal help.