Washington fails to pass stronger distracted driving legislation

Washington lawmakers recently declined to pass a more comprehensive ban on driver cell phone use, which could have offered significant safety benefits.

As technology has advanced, distracted driving has become a growing problem across the U.S. According to The Seattle Times, Washington was among the first states to recognize the danger of driving while using cell phones. In 2007, lawmakers banned motorists from texting or talking while driving. Since then, however, state distracted driving laws have not kept pace with new technology.

At present, Washington drivers can legally use their phones for various purposes that weren't common in 2007. These include sending emails, browsing online and using GPS functions. These behaviors may increase the risk of traffic collisions just as much as texting does. Unfortunately, state lawmakers recently failed to pass a bill that could have curtailed these dangerous practices.

Proposed changes

The bill, which passed in the state Senate and stalled in the House, would have expanded the existing cell phone ban. Drivers would not have been permitted to do any of the following things with a handheld cellphone:

  • Read from the screen
  • Type information into the phone
  • Hold the phone

The new ban would have extended to vehicles stopped at traffic signals and signs. However, the bill would have made exceptions for emergencies. Furthermore, drivers would have been permitted to use hands-free devices for certain functions, such as getting directions.

The lawmaker who introduced the bill intends to bring it back next year. Statistics suggest that, if the measure succeeds then, it could offer significant safety benefits for drivers in Washington.

Safety gains

A more extensive ban on handheld cell phone use could make enforcement easier for state authorities. Currently, it can be difficult for authorities to prove that a driver was using a cell phone for an illegal purpose. In 2013, for example, Washington State Patrol troopers pulled over 2,531 drives on suspicion of texting. They only were able to issue citations to 1,216 people, or less than half of the drivers.

Furthermore, the behaviors that are not currently banned may contribute significantly to distraction-related accidents. According to USA Today, the National Safety Council reported in 2014 that 26 percent of all car accidents involve cell phone use. However, less than one-fifth of those accidents occur due to texting.

The toll that cell phone use takes in Washington is unknown, as this factor is difficult to conclusively identify in accidents. However, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation, driver inattention contributed to 7,855 crashes in 2011 alone. The number of injuries and fatalities that resulted from these accidents was not reported. However, this high figure made inattention one of the top five causes of accidents that year.

Help after accidents

Until stronger laws against distracted driving pass in Washington, Bellevue drivers may face a significant risk of distraction-related accidents. People who have suffered injuries because of another driver's reckless actions should consider discussing their rights with an attorney. An attorney may be able to offer advice on the available legal remedies.

Keywords: distracted, driving, accident, injury