Distracted Driving Laws in Washington: What to Know

On May 10, 2021, Karley Cecil was driving northbound on I-5 in Tacoma. She was also scanning her Facebook page to see who had liked or commented on her latest update.

With her eyes off the road, she failed to notice that a man had stepped into the right-hand lane where she was driving. Kyang Park had pulled off the freeway’s shoulder and gotten out of his car to inspect a flat tire. In an instant, the 78-year old was struck and killed.

We all know that we should not text and drive. But what are the distracted driving laws in Washington State? And, what happens if your distracted driving injures someone, or worse? Let’s look at answers to these common questions.

How Many Accidents Happen Due to Texting and Driving in Washington

Every year, thousands of people are impacted by distracted driving crashes across Washington. Here’s what the data shows from the Washington Department of Transportation:

YearDistracted Driving CrashesCell Phone Related CrashesDistracted Driving Serious InjuriesCell Phone Related Serious InjuriesDistracted Driving FatalitiesCell Phone Related Fatalities
201612,32777420167515
201711,51169019913867
201810,93272019911663
201910,4746492018695
202011,74975826919804

Nationwide, distraction was a factor in 8% of all motor vehicle collisions in 2019. This is an increase of almost 10% from the previous year.

What are the Distracted Driving Laws in Washington State?

Washington has a couple of distracted driving laws you should know. We’ll sum up the key points from each, but we encourage you to click through to read the full laws.

  • RCW 46.71.672. Using a Personal Electronic Device While Driving.In the State of Washington, you cannot use a hand-held personal electronic device (such as a cell phone) when driving. To be clear, “driving” includes when you are stopped at a traffic light! You may use a hands-free device to make a phone call. But otherwise, no texting, calling, or watching Netflix.
  • RCW 46.61.673. Dangerously Distracted Driving.It is illegal to engage in any activity that takes your focus off driving your vehicle in a safe way. Incidentally, this law doesn’t list out specific distractions. Nearly anything – such as eating, applying makeup, or interacting with passengers – can be a distraction.

It’s important to stay informed of changes to Washington’s laws as they can change at any time.

Is it Ever OK to Use my Cell Phone When Driving?

Yes. There are a few exceptions where the use of a cell phone while driving is permissible.

These include:

  • To reach emergency services (such as dialing 911)
  • When using minimal finger action (e.g., a swipe to accept or decline a hands-free call)
  • Commercial drivers, if required as part of their employment
  • Emergency services personnel

Remember, you cannot use your phone to send a text or check social media while you are stopped at an intersection. If you really need to check your messages, pull off the road somewhere safe.

What is the Penalty for Distracted Driving?

Here are the penalties for distracted driving in Washington:

  • $136 for a first-time texting and driving offense
  • $234 for a second-time texting and driving offense
  • Between $30-100 for a distracted driving offense (such as eating or grooming)

However, a ticket may not be the only financial impact you face from distracted driving.

Will a Cell Phone Ticket Affect my Insurance Rates?

It’s possible that a cell phone ticket could affect your insurance premiums. When you get a distracted driving ticket in Washington, that information becomes available to your insurance provider the same way that a speeding ticket would.

The impact may be greater if you are a new or teen driver or have prior infractions on your record.

What Happens if I Hit Someone While Driving Distracted?

If you hit someone while driving distracted, you will be financially responsible to pay for the victim’s medical bills, property damage, pain, and suffering. Additionally, you may be ticketed and worse yet, you could face criminal charges.

Let’s revisit the story of Karley Cecil, who struck and killed a pedestrian while texting and driving. In her case, she was charged with vehicular manslaughter, a felony. A vehicular manslaughter conviction could bring many life-impacting consequences, such as:

  • Prison time
  • Severe fines
  • Loss of employment
  • Community service
  • License suspension or revocation

Having a crime like this attached to your public record may make it difficult for you to find work, housing, or form new relationships.

To sum it up, there are many potential consequences for texting and driving, from injuring an innocent person to facing criminal charges. The cost is never worth it. Please, don’t text and drive.

How Can I Stop the Bad Habit of Texting and Driving?

If we’ve convinced you to stop texting and driving – good! Here are a few ideas for how to break the texting and driving habit:

  • Power off your cell phone
  • Put your phone in a hard-to-reach spot (such as the trunk)
  • Handle your phone tasks before you drive
  • Add an app that prevents you from texting and driving
  • Designate a passenger to text

Commit to doing whatever it takes to kick this risky behavior.

Where to Turn if You’ve Been Injured

Have you been injured in a distracted driving collision? Our car accident attorneys are always here to offer a free case review. Every day, we answer questions from victims who have been in collisions. There’s no obligation or risk, so please reach out to our team today.

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