Stay phone free behind the wheel or risk a $136 fine

New driving laws went into effect on Sunday that bar drivers from holding their phone or other electronic devices while they are behind the wheel.

While the Washington State Patrol is giving drivers a grace period where they will not be as stringent with ticketing drivers who break the law, Public Information Officer James Perry said his agency, Redmond Police Department, was set to begin issuing tickets immediately.

“We do not have a formal grace period, so starting on Sunday the 23rd, officers can issue tickets under the new law,” he said.

Under previous state law, drivers who were stuck in traffic or stopped at a light and then ticketed for using an electronic device had argued since they were not moving or technically driving, they weren’t breaking the law.

That changed Sunday, and drivers who are caught using a cell phone or on a device can expect a $136 ticket for a first offense, and $234 for a second offense. These tickets will also be reported to insurance companies, possibly resulting in increased rates.

Other secondary offenses can garner drivers additional fines if the activities are determined by an officer to have contributed to the primary offense that they were pulled over for.

These include eating, drinking, grooming, smoking and other activities that could contribute to driving violations such as improper lane changes or running lights.

“We all see people doing things while they’re driving that isn’t part of driving,” Perry said. “All of that is potential for the ad-on fine if the officer observes those behaviors.”

While drivers won’t be able to hold anything in their hands, the law does allow for the momentary use of a finger to swipe or push a button on a phone.

Hands-free phones are still allowed to be used, and a phone can be used in any manner to call 911, including being held.

Nationwide, some 3,500 people died and 391,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Locally, Perry said they respond to hundreds of collisions every year, and a majority of them are caused by distracted driving. He hopes the new laws will help reduce those numbers.

The law was approved by Gov. Jay Inslee in the spring during the 2017 state legislative session.