PENINSULA — Drivers in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties fared better than those in other parts of the state during the first weeks of the state’s Driving Under the Influence of Electronics law that took effect on July 23. During the first two weeks, Washington State Patrol troopers didn’t write any tickets or warnings in the two counties, Sgt. Brad Moon said.
“I do not anticipate this new law impacting much of what my officers already do on a daily basis. When they perform traffic stops that appear to be affected by distracted driving, we will address that on a case by case basis,” he wrote in an email to the Observer.
Gov. Jay Inslee has directed law enforcement to give people a break and warn most drivers during the first six months to give people time to learn about the new law. After that, Moon said, he still doesn’t expect violations to increase in the area because texting while driving was already illegal.
However, there has been some confusion about what people are and are not allowed to do while driving now. State law now bans all nonemergency use of handheld electronics, even when drivers are stopped at an intersection or in traffic.
It also prohibits watching videos, even on dash-mounted screens.
They are allowed one touch or swipe to activate hands-free electronics if the device is built-in or secured in a dashboard holder.
Using handheld electronics while driving is now a primary traffic offense that comes with $136 ticket. The fine goes up to $234 for a second violation within five years. Offenses go on a driver’s record and are reported to their insurance company.
The confusion about what drivers can and can’t do behind the wheel comes from a section of the new law that treats non-electronic distractions, including eating, drinking, smoking or grooming as secondary offenses. That means police can give drivers a $99 ticket for “dangerous distractions” on top of other fines, if they’re pulled over for a primary traffic violation, such as speeding, changing lanes without signaling or using electronics.
To tack on the $99, officers have to connect a specific distraction, such as eating a cheeseburger or drinking coffee, with the primary traffic offense or driving mishap.
Here are statistics for stops troopers made for violations of the new law statewide during the first week it was effective.
Written warnings: 4
Verbal warnings: 306
Here’s the numbers of stops for cell phone violations statewide from July 16 to 22, the week before the new law took effect.
Written warnings: 0
Verbal warnings: 155
In 2016 the Washington State Patrol troopers enforced both the cell phone handheld and texting laws. Both laws were replaced by the current law. Here are 2016 statistics:
Written Warnings: 114
Verbal Warnings: 8,805