What Actions are Illegal While Driving in Washington State?

What actions are illegal while driving? The overwhelming majority of drivers in Washington understand the state’s basic traffic regulations: you must follow the speed limit, bring your vehicle to a complete stop at red lights and stop signs, wait until it is safe to merge into another lane, etc. However, some of the laws have changed. There are no more restrictions on what you can do while you are driving. In this article, we will discuss what actions are illegal while driving in Washington State. 

Indeed, in recent years, new distracted driving laws have been enacted. For example, in 2017, lawmakers passed the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act (E-DUI law). There is still some confusion regarding what exactly the law allows. Here, our Seattle car accident attorneys seek to provide some much needed clarity to the issue. 

Four Illegal Actions While Driving in Washington State

  • Texting While Driving: First and foremost, it is important to emphasize that texting while driving is strictly banned in Washington State. To be clear, the law covers more than merely sending or reading a text on a cell phone. You cannot send messages on social media apps or use any handheld device to send or read text-based messages while operating a vehicle. 
  • Holding an Electronic Device: Our state has perhaps the strongest anti-distracted driving law in the entire country. Under Washington law (RCW 46.61.672), drivers are not permitted to hold an electronic device while behind the wheel. If you are driving and your cell phone (or any similar device) is in your hand, you are violating the law. The only exception is for calling emergency services. There is no exception for putting in GPS directions, looking at maps, or reading screens. 
  • Using Electronics While at a Red Light: Washington’s anti-electronic device law applies whenever a vehicle is on the road—meaning you cannot use a red light as an excuse for taking a look at your phone. If a police officer sees a driver holding their phone while at a red light, they can issue a citation. 
  • Distracted Driving (General): Finally, Washington’s distracted driving law contains some ‘catch-all’ language. Certain conduct that is not explicitly banned may still constitute a violation of the statute if it is deemed unlawfully distracting. For example, a motorist who is observed to be flipping through the pages of a newspaper while blazing down the highway could be found in violation of the distracted driving law. 

Four Permissible Actions While Driving in Washington State

  • Brief Touches of an Electronic Device: Although you cannot hold an electronic device while behind the wheel, Washington law does allow drivers to briefly touch their device for a specific purpose. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘one swipe’ rule. Essentially, a driver can swipe their device to ignore a phone call, turn up the volume on GPS directions, or other similar things. Be careful. 
  • Making Phone Calls While on a Hands-Free Device: You can make phone calls while driving in Washington State—as long as you have a hands-free system. Please make sure that you have a hands-free method set up ahead of time. If a police officer sees a driver fumbling with an electronic device while behind the wheel, they may issue a ticket. That the driver is trying to make a hands-free call is not a viable excuse. 
  • Calls to Emergency Services: Remember, you are always allowed to call 911 or otherwise send a message to emergency services. Highway safety authorities in Washington want to make it very clear that state residents should always seek help in the case of an emergency. 
  • Smoking and Eating (Depending on Context): Finally, drivers are still allowed to smoke, eat, and drink non-alcoholic beverages while behind the wheel in Washington—as long as it is not deemed to be an unreasonable distraction. A motorist who is taking a few bites of a protein bar is unlikely to run into any problems. On the other hand, a driver using a fork and knife to chow down on a large burrito bowl could be violating Washington’s distracted driving law. 

Contact Our Washington Car Accident Lawyers Today

At Premier Law Group, our Washington auto accident attorneys are attentive, tireless advocates for injured victims. If you or your loved one was seriously injured in a collision, we will protect your rights and help you recover full financial compensation. For a no cost, no obligation review of your claim, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm  today. We represent injured victims in King County and throughout Washington State.

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