Texting and Driving: The Law in Washington State

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Using a cellphone and text messaging while driving can and does cause both minor and major car accidents according to our Tacoma texting accident lawyer.  In response, the State of Washington has passed laws limiting how drivers can use cellphones or other wireless devices while in their cars.  These laws are intended to reduce the number of distracted drivers on the road.

The University of Washington found that in a study of 7,800 drivers, 624 drivers (over 8 percent of participants) were observed using an electronic hand-held device while driving.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, using your cellphone to send a text takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds.

Can I Use My Cellphone While Driving?

Drivers in non-commercial motor vehicles are not allowed to put a cellphone (or other wireless communication device) up to their ear while driving.  You must use your cellphone in a hands-free setting using a speaker, headset, or earpiece.

Even if you are not putting the cellphone to your ear, you also are not allowed to send, read, or write a text message while driving a car.  Driving is defined to include the period of time you are waiting in your car for a traffic signal light to change.  If you violate the texting law you will be guilty of a traffic infraction.  The penalty amount of the infraction is currently $124.   However, the fact that you committed a traffic infraction cannot be given to your insurance company or your workplace.  As such, it will not have the potential to increase your insurance rate.

Both the hands-free cellphone law and the ban on texting law are primary laws in the State of Washington.  This means that a police officer can issue a ticket for a violation of either law without any other driving offense taking place.

Ways to Legally Use Your Cellphone While Driving

You are currently allowed to use your cellphone to perform the following activities while driving.  You may:

1.  Read, select, or enter a phone number or name in a cellphone if you are trying to make a phone call.

2.  Use a GPS navigation feature if it is voice-activated, fastened to the vehicle, and allows you to send or receive messages without taking your attention away from the road or using either hand.

3.  Put your cellphone to your ear or text if you are attempting to report illegal conduct, to ask for emergency or medical help (such as in a car accident), to prevent injury to people or property, or you are a bus or taxi driver and are using an electronic device mounted on a vehicle.  You may also put your cellphone to your ear if you are using a hearing aid.

Further, if you only have an intermediate license, then you are not permitted to use a wireless device or even a hands-free device unless you are reporting illegal conduct, asking for emergency help, or preventing injury to a person or property.

To avoid violating the law, you should get off the road if you need to use a handheld cellphone and want to read, write, or send a text message.

If You Get a Notice of Infraction for Cellphone Use While Driving

A police officer can write a notice of infraction if he or she personally observed you violating the law. This means the police officer must have seen you placing your cellphone to your ear or sending, reading, or writing a text message while driving.  If a police officer believed that you were sending or writing a text message while driving, then it may be possible to use your cell phone records as evidence to deny whether you were actually performing this activity.  The police officer would have cited you under RCW 46.61.667 (hands-free cellphone use) or RCW 46.61.668 (cellphone texting while driving).

You will have 15 days to respond to the notice of infraction if you are given the notice in person.  You can respond to the notice by paying the penalty amount, contesting that you violated the texting statute and requesting a hearing, or you can try to get a reduced penalty by explaining mitigating circumstances at a hearing (if you fall under an exception). At this hearing, you might need to subpoena the police officer so that you can be given an opportunity to cross-examine him and dispute his testimony.

If you are cited for a violation of the texting statute, you should call a traffic accident lawyer to discuss options and represent you at the infraction hearing.  Or, if you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, you should contact our Tacoma texting accident Tacoma Car Accident Lawyers at Greene & Lloyd, PLLC


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