Eye on Hospitality: What Washington’s New Distracted Driving Bill Is – and Isn’t

Eye on Hospitality: What Washington’s New Distracted Driving Bill Is – and Isn’t

By Paul Schlienz

Distracted driving. No one denies it’s a problem, but a bill passed by the Washington State Legislature earlier this year raised many concerns about its scope.

While few people would object to people receiving tickets for doing things like driving while texting, quick service restaurants with drive-thrus are worried that the food or drink they serve drivers may be prohibited under the new law.

The best way to get a handle on what the law, which went into effect on July 23, is really all about is to go to the Washington State Patrol’s blog. You will find plenty of good, accurate information there. Also, check out the patrol’s official Twitter feed.

In a nutshell, the new law is part of an ongoing effort by the Legislature to crack down on distracted driving, especially from the use of electronic devices.

The law forbids handheld uses of electronic devices. This applies to more than just phone calls. Indeed, it also prohibits composing or reading any kind of message, social media post, photograph or data.

These are all primary offenses. If a trooper observes drivers making contact with their phone other than the one touch/swipe, they will pull them over. These are what troopers will be mainly focused on now that the law is in effect.

Not all use of electronics, however, is banned. Built-in electronics, including hands-free phones, satellite music and maps, remain legal. Drivers also may turn on a smartphone that’s mounted in a dashboard cradle for limited purposes such as navigation apps and the minimal use of one finger. You are also allowed to call 911 in an emergency.

There is also a second part of the law, and this is what most concerns restaurants.

Consumption of food and drinks, grooming and smoking are considered secondary violations under the new law. As we all know, it is common to eat, drink, smoke or do any other number of activities while driving. These activities are allowed if they do not interfere with the safe operation of the vehicle. If the driver does commit another traffic offense and is dangerously distracted, then the driver is subject to another $99 fine. But there is no need for quick service operators to fear that their drive-thru business will dry up due to driver’s concern that they may be ticketed if a state trooper sees them sipping coffee.

Drivers cannot get pulled over for secondary offenses alone.

Fines for the first primary offense will cost $136, the second within five years is $234.

Rule of thumb: Be alert, don’t mess with the hand-held electronics while you’re in the driver’s seat, and you won’t have to worry about running afoul of the new law.

And you can still take that occasionally swig of Coke while you’re on the road.

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