In three months, it will finally be illegal to flip through Facebook or watch Netflix on your phone while driving a car in Washington State.
Though Washington was among the first state’s to ban texting while driving, the state has been slow to update it’s laws to outlaw other mobile device uses as the technology evolved beyond just text messaging.
It took several years of failed bipartisan efforts (House Democrats killed a similar bill in 2015 after Republicans passed it in the Senate) before the legislature finally passed SSB 5289 (PDF) this session to outlaw using a “personal electronic device” while driving. This includes holding the phone at all while talking (you can no longer just hold it in front of your face, which was actually legal before), watching video (this was also somehow legal until now), and using your finger to do anything more than activate a function on a device (so you can still answer a call on speaker, for example, or skip a song on Pandora).
Before signing the bill into law Tuesday, Governor Jay Inslee struck a provision that would have delayed the law’s effects until January 2019.
“We can’t wait that long,” he said, surprising the bill’s supporters and eliciting a round of applause. It was a moment of truly great leadership from Governor Inslee. Because he’s right. There’s no reason why people need another year and a half of streaming Netflix while driving.
The law goes into effect 90 days after the signing, which is actually months sooner than the original January 2018 date.
Thank you to all the loved ones of people killed or seriously injured due to distracted driving who fought long and hard for this to become law. Their powerful testimony gave this bill the momentum it needed to overcome years of stalling.
Senator Ann Rivers (R-La Connor) also deserves credit for being a persistent champion of the bill in her party and the Senate. This new law is a flash of true bipartisanship in an era where that happens less and less often. Republicans and Democrats landed on both sides of this vote.
In fact, the vote could even have implications in the Seattle mayoral race. Newly-announced Candidate Bob Hasegawa was one of just ten “no” votes in the Senate. Jessyn Farrell, another new candidate for Mayor, was a sponsor of the bill in the House. Here’s the final roll call: