Washington state is cracking down on texting and eating at the wheel with a new law that went into effect Sunday. The new “Driving Under the Influence of Electronics” law puts stricter restrictions on the use of handheld devices in cars, reports the Seattle Times. Even when stopped at a red light or in standstill traffic, drivers can be ticketed for simply holding their phones. The law allows phone usage strictly in emergency situations or with apps that are voice-activated, controlled through dashboards, or mounted for map navigation that requires “minimal use” of fingers. Per USA Today, offenders will be slapped with a $136 fine for first offenses; the penalty increases to $234 for additional offenses within five years. Police will report offenses to insurance companies and they’ll also appear on driving records.
Non-electronic distractions like applying makeup, eating, or driving with a pet on your lap are also restricted as a secondary offense and run a $99 fine. “If I see you speeding and as you speed by me, I see that you're eating a big old cheeseburger, that's a secondary,” Washington State Patrol trooper Will Finn explained to Fox 12 during a ride along, during which he pulled over a driver (who was “shocked” to find out about the law) for speeding while eating an ice cream cone. Finn added that educating drivers is key in the first stages of the law to get to Washington’s Traffic Safety Commission’s "Target Zero" goal of no deaths on the road by 2030. Per the Times, distracted driving causes a third of road deaths. A spokesperson for the Governors Highway Safety Association says Washington, the first state to ban texting while driving 10 years ago, "has the potential to be a game changer and serve as a model for other states." (Read more distracted driving stories.)