State Patrol now ticketing for E-DUIs; insurance premiums may be affected

You better not be reading this while driving.

Washington state’s Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act went into effect last July, but many police departments and the Washington State Patrol spent the last half a year warning drivers of the new law, rather than ticketing violators.

In total, deputies issued 6,475 warnings about the new E-DUI law statewide between July 2017 and January 2018.

But now, drivers caught using their cellphones, tablets, GPS, or any electronic hand-held device that requires more than a “single touch” to operate will have to pay a $136 ticket, or $234 if you are caught violating the E-DUI law a second time in five years.

The purpose of this law, in the short term, is to make driving safer for everyone, said Washington Traffic Safety Commission Program Manager Angie Ward.

But in the long run, she hopes this helps facilitate a change in driving culture.

According to the Washington State Patrol, distracted driving fatalities increased 32 percent between 2014 to 2015, and one out of four crashes involves cell phone use just prior to the crash.

Ward said Washington experiences 550 fatal and serious crashes annually, and in about a third of them, distracted driving is a contributing factor.

“It’s a public health crisis, no doubt,” she continued. “But we’re kind of lulled into a sense of normalcy about the fact that this happens and there’s nothing we can do about it. Yet when you look at the kind of crashes that are happening, they’re completely preventable. So we’re choosing to drive impaired. We’re choosing to drive distracted.”

According to Ward, 94 percent of all crashes can be attributed to a driver, rather than mechanical failure or falling rocks. This is why she and the Traffic Safety Commission use the word “crash” in lieu of “accident.”

“What do you hear from people when crashes happen? ‘It happened so fast!’ ‘It came out of nowhere!’ ‘I didn’t see it coming!’ And I think this says more about how we learned to drive in the first place, and the attention we give to it, or don’t, than it says about that these are unavoidable situations,” Ward said, adding that using the word “accident” or similar vocabulary contributes to the culture of what happens on our roadways. “Words matter, and that verbage is something we’re committed to bringing attention to.”

In addition to using electronics behind the wheel, which is now considered a primary offense, officers can also cite drivers for driving while “dangerously distracted,” which includes putting on makeup, reading, shaving, and more while driving.

A fine for this is $99, but these are secondary offenses, which means officers can’t pull drivers over unless they also committed a primary offense.

E-DUIs to affect insurance

E-DUIs may be old news to many drivers, but many may not know receiving an E-DUI citation could affect their insurance premiums — and that’s because many insurance companies are still trying to figure that out themselves.

“Because the law is so new, and at the time was not being heavily enforced just yet — a lot of warning were being given out, not real infractions — the question was largely hypothetical,” said Kenton Brine, president of the NW Insurance Council, a non-profit supported by member insurance companies like PEMCO, USAA and Farmers insurance. “I can say this: the industry is well aware, as are our traffic safety experts, that using a handheld device while driving is an equivalent in many ways to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when you’re driving… Insurance companies are likely to take this very seriously when they start to see those infractions show up on driving records.”

Brine added he couldn’t speculate exactly how premiums could be affected; that depends on the insurance company and potentially other factors, like when a cell phone was being used (e.g. at a stop light versus during a collision) and how many times a driver has received an E-DUI.

He did say two insurance companies did compare E-DUIs to regular DUIs, with one saying they would treat an E-DUI less seriously than a DUI, and another saying both citations would be treated “about the same.”

Derek Wing, PEMCO’s communications manager, said his company was one that would rate E-DUIs somewhere in the middle.

“It’s considered a major violation, but that’s not as bad as something like a DUI,” Wing said. “The bottom line for us is, don’t do it. Not only do you incur the cost of the ticket, but it’ll cost you more in insurance.”

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