Washington State Distracted Driving Laws (All You Should Know)

Washington State Distracted Driving Laws

“I only took my eyes off the road for a second.”

But a second is all it takes to get into a car crash. 

From 2017 to 2019, 24% of all fatal car accidents in Washington involved distracted driving

That’s 367 deadly crashes.

Of course, not all collisions caused by distracted driving result in a fatality…

But you still don’t get off scot-free…

This is true even if you don’t get into an accident. 

And that is because of the distracted driving laws in place. 

Today, we’ll explore all you should know about the Washington State distracted driving laws. 

So let’s begin!

Washington State Cell Phone Law

Washington State Distracted Driving Laws

Almost everyone has a mobile phone.

Unfortunately, it’s the most common distraction for drivers

This is why, in Washington, you are not allowed to use any mobile phone or wireless communication device when behind the wheel. 

That means NO answering calls, sending messages, scrolling social media, taking pictures or videos…

And this law is primary enforcement. 

That means a law officer will pull you over if you are spotted using your phone while driving… even in a red light.  

Washington State Cell Phone Law Exceptions

You might find the law unusually harsh, so here’s some silver lining.

Using your phone is possible if any of these situations apply to you:

  • You’re using your phone in hands-free mode. However, this does not apply if you’re under 18 and have an instruction permit or intermediate license. 
  • You only need to use a single touch or swipe of your finger to activate an app or answer a call (and then switch to hands-free mode).
  • You’re parked or you’ve pulled over in a safe place. 
  • You’re calling for emergency services or medical help.
  • You’re reporting illegal activity.

Other Primary Distracted Driving Laws in Washington

Yes, cell phones are the biggest distractions. 

But there are other distracted driving laws in Washington. 

Let’s detail them here…

Using Personal Electronic Devices

If you think cell phones are the only gadgets you can’t use — guess again!

Remember, Washington State prohibits drivers from using ANY personal electronic device while driving. 

Besides mobile phones, it also applies to a laptop, a tablet, and two-way communication devices (walkie-talkies or CB radios). 

You can’t play portable games, either.

All the exceptions for cell phone use apply to these devices, plus the following:

  • You use the device to avoid causing injury to a person or damage to property.
  • You’re operating an authorized emergency vehicle.
  • You’re a transit or for-hire operator and are using the device to communicate with your dispatcher (the device must be permanently attached to your vehicle).
  • It’s a navigational system (like a GPS) that doesn’t require your hands.

Video Broadcast Reception

You cannot install equipment that allows your vehicle to receive television broadcasts that can be seen by the driver. 

This will only tempt them to turn their attention to whatever is on the screen instead of the road. 

That said, you can install this for the backseat passengers. 

Headphone or Earphone Use

You use several senses when driving — not just your eyes.

Washington State prohibits using earphones or headphones because it prevents you from hearing sounds from your environment.

You may miss out on sirens or emergency horns, preventing you from responding accordingly.

However, this law does not apply to motorcycle drivers who wear headgear outfitted with headphones or earphones.

Secondary Distracted Driving Laws

Okay, let’s be clear… 

A LOT of things can lead to distracted driving.

Putting on makeup…


Having a heated argument…

Trying to settle down rowdy children or pets…

Fiddling with your vehicle’s controls…

The list can go on.

Now, these aren’t exactly illegal. 

But it is secondary law. 

This means that you’ll only get ticketed for distracted driving if the distraction led to an accident. 

That’s the only time you can get caught. 

So even if it isn’t a primary law, you should still avoid it at all costs because it can lead to an accident — which can lead to injuries or, if not, at least a ticket. 

Distracted Driving Penalties in Washington

The fine for distracted driving is high — at least $124

Yes, it applies on your first offense.

Expect the amount to be higher if your driving behavior leads to a collision. 

If you’re a repeat offender, you may have to pay double.

FAQs About Washington State Distracted Driving Laws

Here are some commonly asked questions about distracted driving in Washington.

Can You Eat and Drive in Washington?

Yes, you can eat while driving in Washington. But it’s highly recommended that you avoid doing so. 

If that leads to an accident, then you will put yourself and others in danger…

Plus, you will be fined for the accident as well as for distracted driving. 

To be safe, wait until you get home to dig in. Or, if your stomach’s already growling before you get in the car, eating before driving is the better option.

Does Washington State Do Enough to Prevent Distracted Driving?

The implementation of Washington State’s laws on distracted driving only began in 2017…

And the results have been favorable.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission found that deaths from distracted driving decreased by 40% from 2017 to 2020. It went from 155 to 93.

Washington is also one of the few states with distracted driving laws covering more than cell phone use. 

Can You Be on Your Phone at a Red Light in Washington State?

You cannot use your phone while waiting for the red light to turn green. The only exception is if you’re in an emergency or using hands-free mode. 

Can You Touch Your Phone While Driving in Washington State?

Yes, as long as the only thing you do is swipe it to activate a hands-free feature. The same applies to single-touch commands.

Is it Illegal to Drive with One Hand in WA?

Nothing in Washington’s legislature suggests you cannot drive with only one hand on the steering wheel.

However, it’s best that you use both hands. This allows you to have better control of your vehicle, thus preventing accidents.

The Wrap Up

And there you have it — everything you needed to know about the Washington State distracted driving laws. 

Remember, no message, makeup, or meal is worth your safety (and that of your passengers).

Focus your attention on the road rather than attempting to multi-task while behind the wheel. You can deal with the rest later.

Stay safe!

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