Traffic Safety


Traffic Safety

The Road to Distraction-Free Driving

Driving may feel like second-nature, but it is a very complex, multitask activity that requires you to process constant changes to the roadway, traffic signals/signs, decisions by other drivers, and proximity to other vehicles. When distracted behind the wheel, you have slower reaction times and suppressed brain activity, you scan the road less and can miss visual cues, critical events or objects, all of which can lead to a crash.

Washington State’s New Distracted Driving Law

Washington’s new distracted driving law went into effect on July 23, 2017. The law makes it illegal to use a handheld personal electronic device while driving, even if you’re stopped at a traffic sign/signal or stuck in traffic. Here’s what you need to know:

What’s now illegal:

  • Holding a personal electronic device.
  • Using a hand or finger to compose, send, read, view, access, browse, transmit, save, or retrieve electronic mail (email), text messages, instant messages, photographs or other electronic data.
  • Watching a video on your device.


  • When your vehicle is pulled over to the side of (or off of) the road and has stopped in a location where it can safely remain stationary.
  • If you need to contact emergency services.
  • The minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a device.

What’s still legal – but not safe:

  • Using hands-free personal electronic devices and devices that are integrated into your vehicle.*

*According to AAA research, the use of hands-free devices and voice-activated systems is just as distracting as use of a hand-held cell phone. So, while the law will help reduce distracted driving, it still doesn’t prohibit all dangerous distractions.


  • The first infraction is a $136 fine.
  • The infraction will be reported to your insurance company.
  • Second and subsequent tickets within a five year period will double the penalty, which could result in a $235 fine.

In addition to targeting electronic devices, the new law also makes illegal a variety of other “Dangerously Distracted” driving practices. The Dangerously Distracted section of the new law includes banning ANY activity not related to driving that interferes with the safe operation of your vehicle as a secondary offense. Examples might include: eating, spilling your coffee, your dog on your lap, putting on makeup or shaving. While you can’t be pulled over for these non-driving related distractions, if the distraction contributes to you to committing a traffic violation, such as crossing the centerline or following too close, then you can receive an additional $99 fine for being dangerously distracted.

Pledge to drive distraction-free

Have all drivers in your family take the pledge to drive distraction-free. Drivers should always turn off or put away their cell phone when driving and to never call or text someone they know is driving.

5 Tips to Avoid Driving Distracted

Although Washington’s new Distracted Driving law focuses mostly on the use of personal electronic devices, any time you can’t fully focus on the road ahead, you are distracted. Accordingly, here are some easy-to-follow tips for avoiding driving distracted:

  1. Turn your electronic device off or put it into airplane mode, or place it somewhere where you won’t be tempted to reach for it.
  2. Prepare for your drive before you set out: check for traffic, tune the radio, set your GPS, adjust your mirrors, get kids in their car seats, secure your dog or finish eating.
  3. If you have passengers, enlist their help with navigation, attending to backseat passengers and changing the music.
  4. Store loose items that could roll around in the car, so you do not feel tempted to reach for them.
  5. If something demands your attention, pull off the road to a safe location.

Understanding the Dangers of Distracted Driving

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has conducted extensive research to show how truly dangerous using a cell phone is when you’re behind the wheel. Their first-of-its-kind research demonstrates how using a cell phone and hands-free technology can dangerously divert a driver’s attention by taking their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and mind off of driving. Learn more about the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s distracted driving research.  

Teen Driver Distraction

Distracted driving is one of the most dangerous temptations for a newly licensed teen driver and one of the leading causes of teen collisions. AAA’s 2016 Traffic Safety Culture Index showed that 70% of teens admit to talking on a cell phone while driving in the last 30 days and 50% of teens admit to reading a text message or email in the last 30 days.

Washington law bans the use of any kind of wireless communication device while driving, including all handheld and hands-free cell phones and text messaging devices for teens with instruction permits and intermediate driver licenses.

Tips for Parents with a Teen Driver

As a parent, you have a powerful influence over your teen’s driving behavior. It’s important not to let up on talking with your teen, and their friends, about the importance of being a safe driver and driving distraction-free. Continue coaching them to gain more experience and monitoring where, when and whom they drive with or ride with as passenger.

  • Driving with passengers: A teen driver’s crash risk goes up 44% with just one teen passenger in the vehicle and exponentially with more teens in the car. Set limits on when, how many and who can ride with your teen and enforce them.
  • Driving distracted by cell phones: A recent study by AAA found that 58% of crashes involving a teen driver were due to distraction, including passengers and cell phones. Make a family rule about using cell phones when behind the wheel that everyone will abide by.
  • Establish a parent-teen driving agreement: Many parents and teens find written agreements help set and enforce clear rules about cell phone use, passengers, driving under the influence, following speed limits, night driving, access to the car, and more.