Many auto accidents in Washington are a result of distracted driving. In fact, in the United States, almost 5,500 people were killed in accidents where distraction was a factor in 2009. There are several common distractions that cause these auto accidents: adjusting the radio, rubbernecking, applying makeup, talking to passengers and perhaps the worst one of all, using a cell phone while driving. The problem with cell phone use while driving is that it is that it distracts the driver on three levels; cognitively: as your mind is focused on the conversation, visually: when your eyes are off the road, and manually: since at least one hand is off the steering wheel. During my time as a Seattle auto accident attorney I have handled several cases where cell phone use while driving led to a serious injury. I know with the laws constantly changing it can be difficult to keep up with the current Washington State cell phone laws and I see it as part of my job to help people understand the laws and their consequences.
Washington State Cell Phone Laws
Because of the high risk of using a handheld cell phone while driving, whether it is to talk or text, Washington has a strict policy when it comes to cell phone use while driving. The laws were “upgraded” in 2010 from a more lenient version set in 2008. With the previous law, using a handheld cell phone to talk or text was illegal, but with the newest law, It has became a primary offense to talk or text on a handheld cell phone under Senate Bill 6345. By making using a cell phone while driving a primary offense an officer can pull you over for using a cell phone illegally even if you did nothing else illegal or dangerous such as cutting someone off. If you are seen using a cell phone illegally while driving, which includes texting or talking with the phone to your ear, you can now be ticketed for the offense alone. Before this bill it was a secondary offense, meaning you could only be ticketed if you were pulled over for a primary offense like speeding and the officer saw you illegally using a cell phone.
Exceptions to this law include authorized emergency vehicles, tow trucks responding to a disabled vehicle, and a driver using a device in hands free-mode. There is also an exception for emergency situations when the driver is reporting illegal activity, summoning emergency help, or attempting to prevent injury to a person or property.
Instruction permit holders and those with an intermediate license are banned from all cell phone use unless it is for an emergency situation such as reporting illegal activity, summoning emergency help, or attempting to prevent injury to a person or property.
If you are caught illegally using a cell phone while driving, you face a fine of $124. The offense is a traffic infraction, but it does not go on your driving record so it is not made available to insurance companies or potential employers.