Lawmakers Are Writing New Laws for Cellphones & Driving

Washington’s outdated and underenforced cellphones-in-the-car law is on the road to becoming one of the strongest in the U.S. Dan Frizzell has that story.

Ten years ago Washington was out ahead of the curve when the Legislature banned texting or holding a cellphone up to your ear while driving.  That law has turned out to be relatively unenforceable, especially the no-texting part.  Composing email, catching up on Facebook, posting a selfie on Instagram, or even playing Candy Crush . . . they all look pretty much like texting, and they’re all legal under the narrow language of current law.  That looks certain to change this year, now that a pair of bipartisan distracted-driving bills have been OK’d in Olympia in the last 24 hours.  Monday night the Senate passed a Republican version, and Tuesday afternoon a similar bill got a thumbs-up in the House.  Seattle Representative Jessyn Farrell, a Democrat, authored the House bill.  Like the Senate bill, it outlaws handling a cellphone at all while driving, beyond one-finger, one-touch uses to activate Siri, for example, or tap on an app to open a traffic map or play a podcast.  Jessyn Farrell:

“Nobody wants to be told what to do, and especially with our phones.  Our phones are an appendage of our bodies, but fatalities are up on our state highways and our local roads, and one of the big reasons is because people are paying too much attention to their phones and not enough attention to the road.  This bill would make sure that people are still able to use their phones, but not holding onto them, not typing into them, etc.”

The new bill hikes the current fine and doubles it for a second offense.  And this time around, insurance companies would be notified about the repeat infraction, causing a double hit to the driver’s pocketbook.  The two bills now trade places, and they’ll be taken up again in the opposite chambers.  Barring surprises, one should become law by the time the Legislature adjourns next month. In Olympia, I’m Dan Frizzell.