GHSA calls state's new distracted driving law a 'game changer'

There is no disputing just how much of a scourge distracted driving has become on U.S. roads and highways. Indeed, numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that distraction was behind 3,179 crash-related fatalities in 2014 alone and that this dangerous practice actually triples the risk of an accident.

While states have taken action to address this issue, with 44 banning texting while driving and a smaller number banning hands-free devices, it's clear that more needs to be done. Interestingly enough, Washington, the first state to implement a texting ban ten years ago, recently saw a new distracted driving law take effect, one that the Governors Highway Safety Association indicated "has the potential to be a game changer and serve as a model for other states."  

What does Washington's new distracted driving law do exactly?

The new law prohibits non-electronic distractions, such as grooming, eating, having a pet on your lap, etc., making it a secondary offense (i.e., you can only be ticketed if police witness you committing a primary offense like speeding or running a red light).

More significantly, the new law forbids all nonemergency use of handheld devices.

Don't other states already do this?  

Yes, 14 states and the District of Columbia do indeed already ban the use of handheld electronic devices while driving. The distinction is that the Washington law prohibits drivers from using handheld electronic devices in any capacity, such as being stuck in traffic or stopped at a red light.

Are there any exceptions?

As mentioned above, the law does permit drivers to use a handheld electronic device to call 911. Furthermore, it permits the "minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate or initiate a function of the device," meaning GPS, Bluetooth, etc.

What's the punishment?

Drivers caught using an electronic device for the first time face a $136 citation with the matter being reported to the insurance company and appearing on their record. The amount rises to $234 for all subsequent citations within five years.

For non-electronic distractions, the fine is $99.

It will be fascinating to see how effective this new law will be and the degree to which other states follow Washington's lead.

If you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one in an accident caused by a distracted driver, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options.

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