Politics & Government

Washington’s new distracted driving law goes into effect July 23. Here’s what not to do.

Washington’s new, tougher distracted driving law — the one that bans holding a cellphone while driving, even when stopped at a red light — goes into effect July 23.

The law bans the use of handheld devices while driving and includes cellphones, tablets, laptops and video games. That means no texting, checking social media, watching videos, using the camera or talking with the device in hand, including while stopped in traffic.

The reason for the law? Distraction-related crashes and fatalities are on the rise in Washington, according to the NW Insurance Council. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports one in four crashes involves cellphone use just before the crash.

Using a handheld device while driving will now be considered a primary offense. Fines will start at $136 and increase to $234, and violations will be reported to insurance companies, which could mean violators will see their rates climb.

Law enforcement will be distributing information to drivers on the new law, said Anne Larsen, manager of a Thurston County task force on road safety. The state’s Traffic Safety Commission recommends officers issue warnings for the first six months after the law goes into effect, but Larsen said it will be up to the officer whether to issue a ticket or warning.

“We want people to get educated,” Larsen said. “Even if the wheels aren’t moving, it’s now a violation.”

Other behavior that interferes with safe driving, such as grooming, smoking, eating or reading, could result in a $99 ticket if you are pulled over for another offense.

Devices can be used if they are hands-free — through Bluetooth or mounted on a dashboard, for example — and can be started using a single touch. Drivers can use handheld devices when they are parked or out of the flow of traffic, or to contact emergency services.

“We have a lot of people coming in asking for ways to make it so they don’t touch their cellphone,” said Chris Johnson, assistant store manager at Car Toys in Olympia. “We have phone mounts that we’ve been selling a lot of, just trying to get the phone out of your hand.”

Johnson said staff has been talking to customers about their options since the law passed in April.

Oregon lawmakers approved a similar bill last month. Repeat offenders in that state could face fines as high as $2,000 and jail time.