What drivers can and cannot do under new distracted-driving law

Drivers have two months to adapt to the new distracted-driving law, after Gov. Jay Inslee accelerated the start date to July 23, instead of January 2019.

Gov. Jay Inslee surprised even the supporters of a distracted-driving law Tuesday when he accelerated the new crackdown, to take effect in late July.

He vetoed a compromise by the Legislature that would have postponed enforcement of the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUIE) Act until 2019.

The law forbids virtually all use of handheld gadgets such as phones, tablets, laptop computers and gaming devices while driving.

Inslee’s move, during a signing ceremony Tuesday, suddenly puts the state under pressure to mount an education campaign and get more troopers onto the roadways, if there are to be any teeth.

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Nearly one-tenth of motorists are holding a device at any given moment, state observation teams have found. That far outnumbers traffic police on the road and raises questions about the law’s chances of success. On the other hand, the state has a history of reducing drunken driving and posting a 95 percent compliance with seat-belt requirements.

Q. When does the law take effect?

A. Approximately July 23, which is 90 days after the Legislature’s regular session adjourned, the governor’s staff say.

“Public safety is better served by implementing this bill this year,” Inslee wrote in his partial-veto message.

Bill sponsor Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, had initially proposed a Jan. 1, 2018, start, and then agreed to a year delay, in negotiations with the House, to give police and drivers more time to prepare.

“Now that the governor has dramatically shortened the timeline, people need to be ready much sooner,” she said in a statement.

Lavera Wade of Spokane Valley, whose grandson Sam Thompson died while texting on Highway 195 near Colfax in 2014, has volunteered to join what will she thinks will be a “fast and furious” outreach. People are talking about distraction, and July 23 arrives soon after a huge wave of news coverage, on both sides of the mountains, she said.

“Nothing’s going to be perfect,” she said, “but my feeling is, doing it this fast is going to make it better.”

Q. What will be banned?

A. Texting is already illegal, as is holding a cellphone at the ear. Drivers constantly flout those rules, or evade them by holding a phone between the legs, or just below the…

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