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There’s a good chance you’ll pay for not paying attention while driving this weekend

What you must know about Washington’s distracted driving law

Washington state's distracted driving law strictly limits what you can and can't do with your cellphone while driving.
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Washington state's distracted driving law strictly limits what you can and can't do with your cellphone while driving.

In case you haven’t gotten the message since Washington enacted its distracted driving law last year — and judging by the number of people still on their phones while driving, many of you haven’t — the Washington State Patrol hopes to reinforce its message this weekend.

The State Patrol will conduct a statewide distracted driving emphasis Friday through Sunday.

According to Washington Traffic Safety Commission, distracted driving is the cause of 30 percent of all fatal crashes and 23 percent of all serious injury crashes in the Evergreen State.

“They’ve done some studies on multitasking, and you’ll hear the scientists that do those studies won’t use the term ‘multitasking’ any more,” said Doug Dahl, Target Zero Manager for Region 11 of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

“They’ve found that we can’t actually do two tasks at once — we switch back and forth really quickly between two things, but each time our minds switch, there’s a little loss where your brain isn’t doing either.

“You’re actually doing both things worse than if you just picked one and did the other later.”

The State Patrol has contacted 18,557 drivers for distracted driving so far this year, already an increase from the 17,058 distracted drivers it stopped in 2017.

According to Washington’s new law, drivers are prohibited from using a personal electronic device — cell phones, laptops, tablets and gaming devices — while operating a motor vehicle on public roads.

That includes when you’re stopped in traffic or at a traffic light.

A device may only be used, according to the law, if:

It’s hands-free and can be started by using a single touch or swipe of a finger.

Drivers are parked or stopped out of the flow of traffic and safely off the roadway.

It’s being used to make an emergency call to 911.

A first offense brings a $136 fine, and if you’re cited for a second time in five years, the fine climbs to $234. Each offense is also reported to insurance companies.

Drivers also can be cited for a secondary violation of being dangerously distracted under RCW 46.61.673, which allows for a $99 fine if a driver commits another traffic violation because they were distracted.

“The WSP would like to remind all drivers that there is no call, text or update that is worth a life,” State Patrol Sgt. James Prouty said in the release. “Let’s all work together to keep Washington roads safe by paying attention.”

In 2015, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. If you text and drive, your next message may be your last.

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