Distracted driving is a serious issue on the roadways of Washington, as well as across our country.
There are basically 3 forms of distracted driving: visual, cognitive, and manual.
- Visual distraction occurs when the driver is looking at anything except the road, i.e. their cellphone.
- Cognitive distraction is when the driver’s mind isn’t on the road or driving conditions, i.e. daydreaming or thinking about an upcoming task.
- Manual distraction is removing one or both hands from the wheel for some task other than driving, i.e. eating, or reaching for something in the car.
A stronger Washington law
The current Washington state law, in effect since 2008, only directly penalizes manual distraction.
“A person operating a moving motor vehicle while holding a wireless communications device to his or her ear is guilty of a traffic infraction.”
But more recent research has shown that hands-free usage of mobile devices does little—if anything—to reduce the increased risk of crashes associated with distracted driving.
A new proposed bill, sponsored by Washington State Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), and Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center), would strengthen and clarify the existing distracted driving law.
The bill, “Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act” (reportedly a tentative name), may make it illegal to even touch your phone while operating a vehicle in Washington.
Fines could increase from $124 to $350.
A second violation could be reported to the driver’s insurance company, which could affect the cost of car insurance.
“We need to stigmatize driving while under the influence of electronics”
– Washington State Representative Jessyn Farrell
The purpose of the new law is not to necessarily punish drivers, but to curb the dangers and damages caused by distracted driving.
The bill was introduced in the Washington House and in the Senate in February 2017. *
Read the Seattle Times coverage: How many more deaths will it take?’ Distracted-driving bill rolling ahead in Olympia
In 2015, distracted driving was blamed for 171 traffic deaths. That is almost one-third of all traffic fatalities in Washington. This figure may be low, as drivers often do not admit using their cellphones after a crash.
Update: The legislature passed a final version of Washington State Senate Bill 5289, the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act, on April 19, 2017.
If signed by Governor Inslee, the Washington law will go into effect in 2019.
Oregon looks at criminal penalties for distracted driving
Oregon is one of only 14 states with a complete ban on handheld use of a “mobile communication device”.
But Oregon State Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), advocates increasing the penalty for distracted driving. Under his proposed bill, a driver caught using a mobile device could face up to $6000 in fines—and a year in prison.
Courtney acknowledged to reporters that the penalties may seem excessive. He seems to expect some opposition from Oregon lawmakers.
“Distracted driving related injuries and deaths are becoming an epidemic. Until we, as a state, take distracted driving as seriously as drunk driving we aren’t going to be able to change behavior,” he said.
For the victims of distracted driving, stopping the improper use of mobile devices is critical.
Oregon state legislature is poised to take up the issue in February.
This Oregon state trooper finds a distracted driver less than 3 minutes into his patrol.
Talk to your legislators
What do you think about the proposed changes to Oregon or Washington law on distracted driving?
Tell Coluccio Law what you think!
See also: A study on distracted driving enforcement in Washington
Last year, police officers from King, Spokane and Whatcom counties worked on a distracted driving sturdy with Harborview researchers. The officers identified a common problem: Washington law on distracted driving is difficult to enforce.
* This post was updated on 2-20-17, and will continue to be updated as the legislation progresses.