The state House passed legislation on Wednesday cracking down on one of the state’s top causes of distracted driving: the use of personal electronic devices behind the wheel.
SB 5289, also known as the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act, was championed this legislative session by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, who sponsored the companion measure (HB 1371). Ferrell represents Kenmore from the 46th District. Together, the legislators generated bipartisan support in both chambers for the bill.
Farrell and Rivers agree updating Washington’s distracted-driving law is long overdue.
“This bill is about saving lives. We love our phones, and we are just not putting them down,” Farrell said. “It will now be against the law to use a personal electronic device in any way while driving, with the exception of a single finger to initiate or end a function like hands-free calling.”
“Some drivers clearly need new motivation to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel and their eyes looking ahead. Who hasn’t seen bad behavior on the road because of a handheld device? Like it or not, that ends up affecting the rest of us when we have to make changes like this,” Rivers said.
Under Washington law, holding a cell phone to one’s ear or texting while driving are prohibited. However, the current law doesn’t encompass all the increasingly common ways people use personal electronic devices, such as posting to or scrolling through apps like Facebook, Instagram, or SnapChat.
The measure as passed prohibits holding a personal electronic device, watching video on such a device or using a hand or finger to use the device’s features – other than to activate or deactivate a function. Pushing a button with one finger to initiate hands-free calling would be allowed.
The Senate made minor amendments to clarify that the bill does not prohibit the use of citizens’ band or ham radios in vehicles.
The House amended the bill before passage today to clarify that a first offense is not reportable to insurance companies. A second offense would be reportable.
Public testimony in support of the bill before House and Senate committees included heart-wrenching stories by family members of loved ones whose lives were lost because of distracted driving-related accidents. These types of traffic-related deaths have risen sharply in the state since 2014.
The Senate must now concur with the House’s version, after which the bill goes to the governor for signature.