Distracted driving is a rising cause of deaths and injuries in Washington State and across the world. But despite being one of the first states to ban texting while driving, Washington has failed to keep up with changing mobile use. The result is that it is currently legal to look at Facebook or binge episodes of Fixer Upper while operating a vehicle capable of causing enormous damage.
The problem is that the texting law was written and passed just before smart phones hit the market. So the WA law does not directly address all the other uses mobile devices are capable of. Only texting or holding a phone to your ear to talk are currently illegal.
Basically, Washington law still says, “No using your flip phone while driving.”
An attempt to update the law in 2015 was killed by House Democrats after the bill passed the Republican-held Senate 35-14. Senator Ann Rivers (R-La Connor) is again leading the effort in the Senate with Representative Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) leading the House effort (HB-1371).
There are going to be many partisan fights this session, with education funding likely to draw most the attention. But distracted driving law updates don’t need to be one of them. Watching TV while driving is obviously not acceptable. And reading Facebook posts has the same (or worse) affects on driving ability as reading texts. I think almost everyone can agree on this, whether Republican or Democrat.
I look forward to the state legislature coming together on this bill.
In 2015 a total 171 people in Washington died in crashes blamed on distractions, out of 568 total road deaths.
If passed, the restrictions proposed by state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.Previous attempts to update the laws governing smartphone use by motorists failed the past two years. Texting is already illegal, as are conversations while holding a phone next to the ear — but other apps and smartphone uses have proliferated since the initial 2008 distracted-driving law was approved.
Farrell’s 2017 bill still fails to address other hazards of hands-free devices, such as the distraction caused when a driver holds a conversation by phone or looks at a dashboard-mounted screen.
Farrell said the proposal represents what’s politically doable this year, based on her discussions with colleagues. And using fingers to text, or to scroll social media, consumes even more attention than hands-free devices, she said.
“We need to start somewhere. This is an applicable place,” she said.