The Washington State House of Representatives took a bold step Tuesday to defend the rights of people who choose to check Facebook while driving.
Distracted driving is one of the top three causes of fatal collisions involving young drivers. And the House is fine with that.
In fact, you can check email, Twitter, read the news, navigate Google Maps, look at porn, play a video game or watch a YouTube video, all activities that most people probably thought were already illegal while driving. But Washington’s texting and driving law didn’t adequately anticipate smart phones. The way it is written, the only activities you can’t do with your phone while you drive is send or read a text message or hold the phone to your ear and talk to someone.
Send a text message while driving = Ticket. Like someone’s cute baby photo on Facebook while driving = Totally fine.
House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) told the Herald that members understood the dangers posed by distracted drivers, but “when you go to someone and say you’re not going to be able to pick up your phone in the car you get a different reaction.” Huh? THAT’S THE POINT!
Senate Bill 5656 would have made it so “any person operating a motor vehicle while holding, reading from, or manually entering information into a personal wireless communications device is guilty of a traffic infraction,” according to the bill analysis by House staff. It also would include increased penalties for repeat offenders. That seems like common sense, and the Republican-controlled Senate passed it 35-14.
But the bill failed to even make it out of the Democrat-controlled House Transportation Committee (member list here). In fact, there wasn’t even a committee vote.
“It is sad to see a decision of inaction on their behalf,” bill sponsor and Senator Ann Rivers (R-La Center) told the Herald. “We may well feel the pain of the House’s inaction.”
This is maddening. I had no idea this law was actually controversial. Seems like one of those no cost, no duh safety law updates that pass easily. 44 states have a texting and driving ban, and 14 have an updated hand-held device ban like the one that just died in the WA House. Is there really disagreement in our state about whether people should be allowed to play or work on their phones while they drive? While a lot of people do it, I assume they all know they’re doing something wrong.
But it gets worse: The Federal MAP-21 transportation package set aside money for states to use in anti-distracted driving campaigns. But one of the stipulations to get that funding is that your state have such a law (of course) and that your law includes increased penalties for repeat offenders. So by not passing this law, Washington probably can’t apply for that Federal money.
House Transportation Committee, what the hell? You really dropped the ball.
This tweet from KOMO’s Keith Eldridge is pretty much perfect.
— Keith Eldridge (@KeithKOMO4) April 7, 2015
The House is currently debating the state transportation package, and WA Bikes is pushing to make sure walking and biking safety gets a boost. But it’s gonna take action from all you and from House leaders to make it happen. Make up for your mistake, House, and provide bold funding for walking, biking and Safe Routes to School!
Stay tuned for more transpo package coverage.
UPDATE: Or maybe, as suggested at the bottom of the Herald report, it could be given new life during transpo funding discussions:
Clibborn said it “probably will do better next year,” then cautioned against declaring it dead this session, given that House Democrats and Senate Republicans are engaged in talks on budget and policy matters.
“Because it is a Republican bill and we’re doing negotiations, you never know what might come up,” she said.