Intoxicated by Tech? Washington Passes Mobile Device DUI Law

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 24, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We all know our mobile devices can affect our attention spans, but what about our sobriety? Well, a new law in Washington State plans to treat cell phones as an intoxicating substance, banning the use of any electronic device while driving, even if you're stopped at a traffic light.

Referred to as a DUI-E, offenders can be nailed with a $136 fine for a first offense, and $234 for any subsequent offenses within five years. Here's a look at the latest effort to crack down on distracted driving.

Drunk With Distraction

Washington Governor Jay Inslee was explicit in comparing cell phones to alcohol, saying the bill is called "electronic driving while impaired" for a reason. "When you are driving with a cell phone," Inslee said, "you are a more dangerous driver than if you are driving drunk with a .08 blood alcohol level." And there are plenty of studies to back him up.

Fox News reports a 32 percent increase in deaths attributed to distracted driving from 2014 to 2015. And Inslee is hoping that the new DUI-E statute has the same impact as the "click it, or ticket" seatbelt campaign that has estimated 95 percent compliance rate in the Evergreen State.

Hold My Calls

The Seattle Times has the details of the statute, which bans using any handheld devices from behind the wheel, including for messaging, social media posting, photography, or other data use. This includes while stopped at a red light and watching video on a dashboard-mounted device. And officers are permitted to pull over anyone they see using a handheld device, typing, or watching video.

There will be a six-month grace period during which officers will hand out education cards instead of tickets. And there are exceptions in the law for phone calls to 911 or other emergency services so long as the driver pulls out of the traffic lanes and stops somewhere the vehicle "can safely remain stationary."

Washington residents might want to check with a criminal attorney to see exactly what's allowed on the state's roadways.

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