'The grace period has ended:' Police, State Patrol now enforcing new distracted driver law

After six months of handing out warnings, drivers will now have to pay a $136 fine they can't keep their hands off their phones. Police and the State Patrol began full enforcement of the the state's new stricter distracted driving law Jan. 2, 2018. (Photo: KOMO News)

LAKEWOOD, Wash. - After six months of handing out warnings, drivers will now have to pay up if they can't keep their hands off their phones.

On Tuesday, police and the State Patrol began officially enforcing the state's new stricter distracted driving law.

"We are writing tickets for it now, the grace period has ended," said State Trooper Brooke Bova.

The new law says you can't hold your cell phone in your hand while you drive. It has to be in a holder or on a console. You can touch the screen, but not write anything or watch a video.

The new law was passed by state lawmakers last spring, and was set to take effect Jan. 1, 2019, but Governor Jay Inslee changed that date to July 23, 2017.

Governor Inslee then told law enforcement to give drivers a six-month grace period to adapt to the new changes, which has now ended.

"I think people got a little complacent, knowing there was that grace period and were still using their phones," said Trooper Bova.

The State Patrol said nearly 7,000 warnings were issued during the last six months.

During a KOMO ride-along with the State Patrol on Tuesday, it took only minutes before Trooper Bova spotted an offender, then another a few minutes later.

"You can't hold your phone in your hand at all," she told a driver on I-5 as she handed out a ticket. "You can put it in the passenger seat, cup holder, but you cannot hold it all."

The fine for violating the new law is $136. If it happens a second time the fine increases to $234, and the tickets are reported to your insurance company.

"Not a morning goes by that I am not surrounded by cars that are straddling the line because someone is on their cell phone," said Gina Bagnariol-Benavides.

She helped pass the new law after she lost her sister, Jody Bagnariol and her friend, Lis Rudolph in a crash caused by a distracted driver.

"I'm glad that they're finally actually giving tickets. I still think our tickets are pretty light, but I do think that they'll make a difference," said Bagnariol-Benavides.

The state patrol said a company specializing in tracking driving habits, TrueMotion, found distracted driving incidents went down 13 percent just after the law passed, but gained it all back in the last couple of months.

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