Lawmaker Says Distracted Driving Bill Falls Short

The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would make it illegal to hold a smartphone, table or other communications device while driving in Washington state. But some lawmakers are worried the measure doesn’t go far enough to stop distracted driving. John Sattgast reports from the state Capitol.

In 2015, more than 170 Washington drivers died from crashes caused by distractions. Texting while driving is already illegal. And so are conversations when you’re holding a cell phone to your ear.

House Bill 1371 says you can’t hold your cell phone, your tablet or other devices to talk to people while you’re driving.

But 10th District State Representative Dave Hayes, a Snohomish County Sheriff’s sergeant, says the proposal is too narrow.

“Under this bill, you can lay a Thomas Guide map out on your steering wheel and read it. But you can’t put two- or three points of data into your phone to get directions. Under this bill, you can read a newspaper laid out on your steering wheel, but you can’t read a book on your iPad. That’s what makes this bill so silly to me. In one situation, it says, yes, you can do this foolish act. But dog-gone-it, you can’t do that foolish act.”

Hayes believes the bill won’t stop drivers from taking their eyes off the road. The Camano Island Republican offered an amendment that would have defined dangerous distractions as that in which the driver engages in activities that interferes with the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Majority Democrats rejected the proposal.

After more than 30 minutes of debate, the bill passed the House along near party lines, 52 to 45. It now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

John Sattgast, Olympia.