Since 2007, drivers in Washington State have been banned from using cell phones while driving. Or, more specifically, Washingtonians have been banned from texting or using a handheld cell phone to talk since 2007. As smartphones had yet to debut, using their other features has remained legal.
Can you presently get a citation for talking on your handheld while driving? For the most part, yes, although there some exceptions if you are dialing 911 or otherwise protecting someone. Using hands-free devices, which have become commonplace, are also within the letter of the law.
Can you get a citation for checking the scores on your phone while driving? No. At least not quite yet.
Perhaps most important for me, as a criminal defense attorney, is the fact that, under the current law, you can be pulled over if a police officer sees you texting or talking on the phone. If you you have been drinking responsibly, this violation can lead to disastrous repercussions.
Now, as the headline suggests, our legislature is considering banning the use of smartphones in their entirety while operating a motor vehicle. Police officers and prosecutors have attempted to apply the current law to the expanded cell phone functionality, to no avail. And, because it can be difficult to discern whether a driver is texting or doing something legal, police officers do not always cite those that they view on the phone. Some say that in 2013, a little less than 1 in 2 drivers suspected of violating the law were cited.
So, the legislature seems poised to come up with a more thorough law, although it does have opponents. Two legislators have already spoken out against the legislation, saying that it would be just as easy to increase enforcement of other traffic laws that drivers break while surfing the ‘net or using their phone's GPS.
And, by the way, do we not want to have drivers able to access what is telling them where to go?
As an attorney that represents DUI clients daily, I agree with the skeptical legislators. This law would undoubtedly lead to more arrests for DUI, whether they are truly warranted or not. This law would simply give police officers another pretext under which to stop someone.
There already plenty of laws on the books to cite people for driving distractedly. We do not any more.
If you have been charged with a DUI in King, Pierce, or Snohomish counties, or anywhere in the greater Seattle area, you need an experienced defense attorney to defend your rights, regardless of whether or not you were pulled over while using your smartphone. Attorney Kevin Trombold has decades of experience representing those accused of DUI. Contact him today for a free consultation.