How New Distracted Driving Laws Will Affect Your Business in Washington, Oregon, and California

This year, Washington, Oregon and California tightened restrictions regarding the use of handheld devices behind the wheel. These changes were all modifications to the original “hands free” or “distracted driver” laws in these states; laws that required updating and modernization. The new laws in these states focus on the act of holding an electronic device as the violation, and no longer require active texting or talking to earn a citation.

In 2016, 40,200 Americans died in automobile-related accidents. This represents a 6 percent increase over 2015, and an aggregate increase of 14 percent since 2014. The National Safety Council (NSC) partially attributed this increase to a healthy economy, which means more people on the road for both work and pleasure. However, NSC’s research more heavily implicated distracted driving, caused by handheld devices such as smartphones, as the culprit. Given this data, reducing the use of handheld devices on the road is warranted.

But many businesses rely on in-transit communication to complete operations-critical tasks every day. These professionals still need instant communication, but they must also comply with the law by communicating in a way that is conducive to roadway safety.

First Things First: Know the New Laws

Below are the three states to have adopted new laws regarding the use of handheld devices in automobiles:

Washington
As of late July 2017, all motor vehicles operators in The Evergreen State, including professionals with a commercial drivers license (CDL), are prohibited from interacting with a phone or other device in such a way that requires them to hold it. Any use of the device must be minimal – for instance, a quick swipe or tap of the finger to reject an incoming call. The penalty for a first offense is a $136 fine. Subsequent violations will result in a $234 fine.

Oregon
Oregon’s new distracted-driving law goes into effect Oct. 1, 2017. Any device interaction that requires holding it, typing into it, scrolling or even resting it between your legs will result in a fine. Drivers using their phones must have it mounted, and must be able to interact with it through single-touch capabilities. Failure to comply with the new law means a first-time fine of a few hundred dollars, or a required safety course at the expense of the guilty party. Two violations in 10 years will result in a fine of up to $2,000, and a third violation comes with a minimum fine of $2,000 and the possibility of jail time.

California
The Golden State first introduced its new distracted-driving law in January 2017. At the time, “specialized mobile radio device” and “two way messaging device” were on the list of prohibited devices. This had the unintended consequence of leaving commercial drivers vulnerable under the law.

However, in July, the law was amended to exclude mobile and dash-mounted two-way radio. The law still strictly forbids the use of wireless devices while operating a vehicle. The only exception is that drivers are allowed to activate or deactivate certain features with one touch, and that device must be mounted through a dashboard or windshield console.

How Are Two-Way Radio Users Affected by the New Laws?

While laws have tightened on mobile electronic devices, states have allowed many exemptions when it comes to two-way radio users, especially for commerce and public safety. These include the following:

·        Drivers with a CDL and school-bus operators using the radio within the scope of employment.

·        Drivers in the logging or utilities industry and using the radio within the scope of employment.

·        Using a radio in police, fire, EMS or towing within the scope of employment.

·        Any permanently mounted device (i.e., dash- or vehicle-mounted mobile radio).

Although the  use of mobile two-way radios are legal and easier and safer to operate than cellphones, it is advised to keep conversations to a minimum when operating a vehicle.

Recap: What is allowed?

  1. Keep your phone on a mount and use an approved hands-free device.
    1. Receiving calls on a Bluetooth headset in this instance is OK.
    2. When making an outgoing call, you must use voice activation.
    3. Beyond a single touch or swipe, avoid touching your phone at all.
  2. Vehicle-mounted (mobile) two-way radio use is legal in every instance.
    1. Portable two-way radios are legal in several industries when used within the scope of employment, or if the driver has a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Businesses must facilitate one of the above to avoid putting their employees in a dangerous and/or illegal situation on the road.  A great option is to utilize a wide area radio system like TRBOWEST.

For more information about how to make your mobile communications compliant with state laws, click here to contact Day Wireless Systems. We’re wireless industry veterans with offices across the West who know the law and the lay of the land, and we’re here to help.

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