The clock is ticking: Washington’s distracted driving law goes into effect July 23

Jul 18, 2017, 5:56 AM | Updated: 11:19 pm
distracted driving...
(File, AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
(File, AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

There are only five days left before Washington state toughens up on distracted driving.

When we last reported on the new law it generated an abundance of questions. So I went in search of the answers to unique situations Washington drivers might run into.

You cannot hold your phone in your hand, at all, while driving on the road beginning July 23. But what about a ferry line, waiting for a train or drawbridge, or while you’re in a drive-thru?

Let’s start with the ferry line. In most cases, you have a dedicated lane where you’re stopped off the road. State Trooper Rick Johnson said you should be OK in that situation.

“You’re going to be at a stationary point, whether your car is on or off the road,” he said. “You can use your phone then.”

You’re still OK to pull off to the side of any road and put your car in park to make a call, though Trooper Johnson said that’s still not the best solution.

“I was hit twice on the shoulder with my lights on,” he said. “Remove yourself from the freeway and find a safe place if you really need to have a conversation.”

What about waiting for a bridge lift or a train? Trooper Johnson said the state patrol doesn’t have many drawbridges or train crossings to deal with. He said under the letter of the law drivers who use their phones in those situations would be risking a ticket because they are still on the road. I checked with several local police departments and most agree that you can still be ticketed for distracted driving while looking at your phone while waiting for a drawbridge or train.

You can still use your phone for an emergency call under this new law, but I have been asked about calling the HERO line for HOV violators under this new law. That’s not considered an emergency by WSP, but Trooper Johnson suggested “program it in your phone under HERO so you can just say “call HERO.”

What about drive-thrus? Can you check your phone while waiting in line?

Trooper Johnson didn’t know. That would be on private property, and you would be off the road. But your vehicle would still be in operation. It may fall under the discretion of the officer or jurisdiction.

The law defines driving as operating “a motor vehicle on a public highway, including while temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays. “Driving” does not include when the vehicle has pulled over to the side of, or off of, an active roadway and has stopped in a location where it can safely remain stationary.”

“It’s going to be a learning curve for people to conduct themselves with their phones in their vehicles in a different manner,” Trooper Johnson said.


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The clock is ticking: Washington’s distracted driving law goes into effect July 23