Distracted driving bill passes

Distracted Driving
A distracted driver. Alyssa Brown / The Watchdog

Earlier this year, the WA State House passed Senate Bill No. 5289, outlawing forms of distracted driving.

“Washington state has had a significant spike in roadway deaths over the past couple years – around a 30 percent increase. Most of these were attributed to distracted driving,” explained Senator Ann Rivers, the prime sponsor of the bill. “In a perfect world people would have sense to understand that this is a deadly behavior – both for oneself and for all the potential victims on the roads and crosswalks. Clearly, this is not the case, and so the state must step in since we have a constitutional mandate to provide for the public safety of the people of the state.”

The law will be implemented in 2019 so drivers have a chance to adjust to the new laws. “It takes time for people to change their behavior – especially this kind of behavior,” said Eric Campbell of the Senate Majority Communications. “This gives drivers 18 months to figure out how they will comply with the new law. That should be plenty of warning.” State Patrol Captain and Captain of Government and Media Relations Monica Alexander added that postponing the implementation of the law will give them time to educate the public. This new bill will allow insurance companies to increase prices if given a ticket for distracted driving, similar to getting a DUI.

Since the bill was passed, many people have been wondering how exactly it will affect automobile insurance policies. “Once this law takes effect a distracted-driving infraction would go on a person’s driving record, and I think we all understand how someone’s driving record can affect what they pay for auto insurance. From my work on this bill I know insurance companies already are seeing many more damage claims due to distracted driving,” explained Campbell.

The bill specifically revokes the freedom to hold a phone by hand while driving. “You can use a finger to touch the device, to initiate or end a voice-activated function, but nothing more. If your car is equipped to go hands-free, either from the factory or using aftermarket technology, great; if not, I bought a phone cradle that clips to the air vent for under $5 at the grocery store.” said Campbell.

“Also, the penalty for the first infraction will go up for a second or more infraction, in addition to the part about an infraction going on drivers’ records.” “You can no longer hold your phone in your hand. You can have it in your vehicle, but if we see it in your hand you can get a ticket,” Alexander noted.

“I think it would be hard if not impossible for the WSP to tie a number of positions to a particular law. But it’s true that the legislature has been working separately to help the Patrol recruit and retain troopers who will enforce all traffic laws, not just this. Remember that this new law will be enforceable by county and city officers also.” Campbell said. “Not this particular law, but yes we need to recruit more in general. We’ve had a lot of retirements and a lot of people who went to different agencies,” Alexander added.