Fatalities from distracted driving have increased 32% in Washington State during 2017. Mason County alone has had two fatalities, and five people that were seriously injured, in auto collisions related to distracted driving. With the passage and signing of the statewide E-DUI Act in July, the Shelton Police Department is taking action locally to address the rise in distracted driving collisions.
During the month of December, Shelton PD will have additional officers on overtime looking specifically for distracted driving violations. The cost of the overtime will be funded through a grant from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC). WTSC is the state’s designated highway safety office. The upcoming initiative is part of their shared vision with law enforcement agencies to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030.
“We have a large volume of traffic going through our downtown, with several pedestrians,” Lieutenant Mike Fiola said. “For us, the goal is compliance. The collisions we are seeing are completely preventable. By increasing our presence, it is our hope to keep drivers focused on the road and off of their devises.”
Under the new law, drivers may not use hand-held cell phones or watch videos while they are driving, stopped in traffic, or at a stop light. This includes tablets, laptops, games, or any hand-held electronic devices. The law restricts hands-free use to a single touch. Shelton PD recommends starting GPS routes or music before driving. Drivers can hold the phone and dial it while driving when contacting emergency services. The first E-DUI ticket will cost drivers $136. If the driver incurs a second ticket within five years, the fine increases to $234. Distracted driving infraction data is also now available to insurance companies.
Other types of dangerous distractions are also covered by the law. Drivers can receive a $99 ticket for driving while dangerously distracted if they engage in any activity that interferes with safe driving. This could include grooming, smoking, eating, or reading. However, these are secondary offenses, meaning the driver would have to commit another traffic violation while dangerously distracted before the additional fine would apply.
Speaking to the rumors surrounding distracted driving laws, Lieutenant Mike Fiola stated, “There is a lot of misinformation out there on the dangerous distraction law. For instance, it is not an offense to drink your coffee while driving. However, if it interferes with your ability to drive safely, you could receive an infraction.”
The Shelton Police Department encourages citizens to drive safely this holiday season. As noted by Lieutenant Mike Fiola, “We are a small community. One death is too many. One death is felt by the whole community. It’s easy to give into the temptation to check a message. We don’t think it will happen to us, until it does.”