Washington State Targets All Forms of Distracted Driving With New ‘E-DUI’ Law

No more texting, typing, reading, smoking, eating, drinking, or "grooming" behind the wheel in the Evergreen State.

Fresh off its efforts to end the scourge of left-lane slowpokes, Washington State is preparing to enact one of the nation’s toughest distracted driving laws after legislators passed a bill outlawing nearly every conceivable form of attention-diverting behavior behind the wheel.

Starting Sunday, drivers will no longer be allowed to use handheld devices at all, even while stopped in traffic or doing something as simple as scrolling through a playlist. Say goodbye to your red light selfies and social media spot-checks; officers who spot a driver with a phone in hand at any time for any reason can issue a ticket starting at $136, and repeat offenders will see that fine rise to $234 per violation.

Additionally, a whole slew of other common sights—smoking, eating, drinking, reading, and “grooming”—are now secondary offenses, meaning drivers can be handed a $99 ticket for any of these actions if they’re pulled over for something else. So that guy you see on your morning commute making the illegal merge while shaving and eating his McMuffin is in for a rude awakening.

Washington’s new E-DUI law will undoubtedly be a sticking point for some people. We can all agree that texting (and reading, and grooming, and sometimes eating) is indeed distracting when controlling a multi-ton vehicle, and therefore probably shouldn’t be allowed. But can the same be said for drinking a bottle of water? Or smoking a cigarette? It can be argued that anything other driving is a distraction behind the wheel, but it doesn’t take too much effort to imagine a driver suing the state over a disputed ticket and the law’s true intent. 

Then again, by now we know Washington governor Jay Inslee doesn’t have the highest regard for human drivers in all our glorious fallibility. And he kept beating that drum at a distracted driving awareness event in the state capital on Monday. Governor Inslee also vetoed a provision of the original bill that would have delayed its implementation until 2019, reminding the crowd in Olympia that a distracted driver is just as bad as a drunk one—and that the issue is too urgent to wait.