There's been a lot of confusion about how Washington's new "Driving Under the Influence of Electronics" (E-DUI) law will be applied, and what you can and can't do under the law. Can you get pulled over simply for sipping a latte during your morning commute? What if you're using a cellphone mounted on your dash for GPS navigation? How will getting an E-DUI ticket affect your insurance?
Here's what we know, based on info from the Washington State Patrol, Washington Transportation Safety Committee, and our own PEMCO experts:
Q) Will I get a ticket for drinking coffee while behind the wheel?
A) You're not going to get pulled over just for sipping your morning latte or eating a handful of fries while driving – as long as you can stay focused on the road and safely operate your vehicle.
The new law has a section on "driving dangerously distracted." Think of anything you might do that distracts you from the road: eating a messy sandwich, smoking, driving with a dog in your lap, putting on makeup. If that distraction causes you to commit a traffic violation, like drifting into another lane or tailgating, then you can get a ticket for dangerously distracted driving. (That ticket would be a $99 fine, in addition to whatever the fine is for the primary traffic violation.)
Q) I've read that the new law makes it so I can't touch my phone at all when driving. But what if I need to enter info into it for navigational purposes?
A) If you have a cell phone mounted on the dash, you can answer a call using the cell phone's speaker, as long as you can do so with a single touch or swipe of your finger. To enter an address into your GPS (or do anything with your phone that requires more than a swipe of your finger or press of a button), pull over out of the flow of traffic.
Q) How will getting a distracted driving ticket impact my car insurance?
A) Several law enforcement agencies, including the Washington State Patrol, plan to give drivers a "grace period" through the end of the year, issuing warnings to drivers instead of tickets during that time. (Other law enforcement agencies say they'll begin issuing tickets right away, so don't count on a warning.)
Not only a will a ticket mean a fine ($136 for the 1st offense and $234 for the 2nd within 5 years), but E-DUIs will be reported to insurance companies – so your Auto policy premiums are likely to be affected if you get a ticket.
For PEMCO customers, how much it affects your specific rates depends on a number of factors. But our underwriters will consider an E-DUI similar to a DUI violation, so you'll likely see a premium increase. You'll also lose any "Accident Forgiveness" you've earned on your policy.
Bottom line: No need to freak out, but do take the time to evaluate and adjust your driving habits and assess the risks involved with using your phone (or engaging in other potentially distracting behaviors) while driving.
Given how fatalities linked to distracted driving are on the rise, and that one out of four crashes involve cell phone use just before the crash, we support this new law.
It isn't about curtailing individual drivers' rights – it's about trying to keep everyone safer on the roads, and keep drivers focused on their primary responsibility: getting safely to their destination. Together, we can reach Target Zero.