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Alexandra Filutowski
Personal Injury, Employment Attorney
Seattle, Washington
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How To Comply With Washington State's New Cell Phone Law

Recently Washington lawmakers passed a bill that will make talking or texting while driving a primary offense. This article covers how to lawfully use your cell phone in the car.
Written Apr 02, 2010, read 4187 times since then.
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As entrepreneurs, many of us use cell phones while driving to our next appointment.  It is an efficient use of time, but unfortuantely, a driving hazard, too. 

Last month Washington State lawmakers decided to strengthen the cell phone law - placing a greater sense of responsibility onto drivers. This article explores the new law and what you can do to comply with it without losing valuable business time driving.

Current Law 

Under current law, Washington drivers may be ticketed for texting or talking on a handheld cell phone only if they are first pulled over for some other violation (e.g., improper lane change, speeding, etc.).

New Law

Starting June 10, 2010, it will be a primary offense to call or text while driving in Washington State. A police officer may pull you over just for seeing you hold a cell phone up to your ear or scan your phone for a text or email. The fine will be $124.00.

No Hand-Held Cell Phones

The new law prohibits drivers from operating a moving motor vehicle and holding a cell phone up to their ear.

Based on Washington case law, "operating a moving motor vehicle" is when one moves a vehicle (forward, reverse or turning):

  1. on a highway, freeway or public roadway;
  2. in a parking lot;
  3. pulling out of a driveway; 
  4. through a fast food drive-thru;
  5. through a four-way stop or controlled intersection; or
  6. in stop and go or slowed traffic.

Some Exceptions To Hand-Held Cell Phones

You will not get fined if you were holding a cell phone to your ear and:

  1. driving an authorized emergency vehicles or tow truck, or
  2. reporting illegal activity (such as a stalker, a robbery, assault, domestic abuse, etc.), or
  3. summoning medical or other emergency help (e.g., driving past a collision), or
  4. preventing injury to a person or property.

Hands-Free Cell Phones OK

You will not be fined if you are using a cell phone in hands-free mode, such as with a Bluetooth or speaker phone.

What Constitutes "Texting"?

“Texting” does not include reading, selecting or entering a phone number for purposes of placing a phone call. Voice-operated global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the vehicle and that allows the user to send or receive messages without diverting visual attention from the road or engaging the use of either hand also does not constitute “texting.”

Discipline Yourself - Disable Your Phone When Driving

If you know that despite the $124.00 fine, you will continue to chat on a handheld phone, or scan and send texts and emails, then you may consider purchasing an application that blocks calls and texts while your vehicle is moving. 

Last month at the wireless industry's annual trade show, a number of software and gadget start-up companies showcased their cell phone applications that block drivers' cell phone calls and texts while the vehicle is in operation.  

The applications' software has GPS that constantly tracks whether the vehicle is in motion.  The applications speak out written text messages, automatically sync with a hands-free device and allow a passenger to temporarily disable the block.  The monthly service fee ranges from $2.99 to $9.99.  These applications include DriveSafely, ZoomFaster and Cellcontrol, among others.  Unfortunately, Apple iPhone currently does not allow these applications, as it does not allow third-party applications.

So beware, June 10, 2010, if you read an email at a stop light, you may be ticketed.  Only time will tell excatly how law enforcement interprets the new law.

Learn more about the author, Alexandra Filutowski.

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