Wash. state panel: Rewrite cell phone laws

Washington flag for distracted driving articleThe state of Washington was an early leader in distracted driving laws, but a transportation panel says it’s fallen behind the times. Washington’s Traffic Safety Commission seeks a complete and unambiguous ban on the use of handheld cell phones while driving.

Washington state law “doesn’t preclude you from looking at Facebook or the Internet as you’re driving,” said Darrin Grondel, director of the Traffic Safety Commission.

The new legislation, expected to be introduced early in the 2015-16 session, would cover smartphone activities such as accessing social media sites and emailing. “That technology wasn’t available when our statute was drafted,” Grondel says.

The attempt to update Washington’s outdated distracted driving laws failed in the Senate last session. It was sponsored by state Sen. Tracey Eide, who won’t be part of the new new biennium as her term is ending. “There’s a stakeholder group supporting SB 6227 and they are searching for another senator to reintroduce the bill next year,” her executive assistant Peter Dodds told HandsFreeInfo on Oct. 21.

The Washington state texting law dates back seven years, making the state one of the first in the nation to try to rein in distracted driving.

The interest in updated Washington state distracted driving laws is inspired, in part, by a desire for federal funding that would support safety education programs. The state is not eligible because of its laws’ outdated wording, which simply bans text messaging and the holding of cell phones to the driver’s ear.

“People were not doing things like Facebooking while they were driving” when the existing texting ban was designed, says Angie Ward of the Traffic Safety Commission.

The Washington State Patrol supports the legislative push to update the distracted driving laws. “The problem is holding the phone,” WSP spokesman Bob Calkins told the Olympian. “When you’re driving, you should be driving — not checking your email, not checking Facebook, not texting.”

State Sen. Eide previously pushed through the laws that made text messaging and holding a cell phone while driving primary offenses. She tried again, unsuccessfully, in 2014 with with legislation that would bar drivers from holding wireless communications devices in any way. The restriction would have applied to any use in roadways, including while temporarily stopped at red lights or stop signs.

Meanwhile, the Traffic Safety Commission posted an online video (below) about the difficulties of enforcing the texting law.

Read about Washington state’s distracted driving laws.

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