The state’s current law was passed in 2007, when smartphones were less advanced and ubiquitous. It banned texting while driving but not surfing the Web or using GPS or Twitter.
OLYMPIA — A bill to expand Washington’s texting-while-driving ban to include all cellphone use while driving except for certain hands-free functions passed the Senate 35-14 Tuesday.
Amid debate, those in opposition to the bill pointed to behind-the-wheel habits they said were as dangerous as using a phone: eating burgers and milk shakes, fumbling for dropped items and calming frisky dogs, to name a few.
Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said the bill targets technology, not distracted driving.
But many in support of the bill, Senate Bill 5656, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, Clark County, said cellphones are worth targeting because they’re to blame for many distracted-driving accidents.
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“I’ve had people say, ‘You’re impacting my personal liberties’ and I understand that,” Rivers said, referencing the general argument made by Hargrove and others. “But at what point do we allow the personal liberties and the safeties that other people enjoy to be impacted because there’s a text that just can’t wait?”
The bill now moves to the House for consideration.
Washington’s current law was passed in 2007, when smartphones were less advanced and ubiquitous.
It banned texting while driving but not surfing the Web, or using GPS or Twitter. The new bill would allow a hands-free mode to make calls or navigate with GPS. Talking on phones without being hands-free is already illegal in Washington. The bill was requested by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
The State Patrol has supported the bill and said the current law is difficult to enforce because it is hard to determine whether a driver is texting or using other functions on a phone. According to 2013 data from the State Patrol, troopers stopped 2,531 drivers suspected of texting, and gave citations to only 1,216.
An initial violation of the new law would be a $124 fine, and each subsequent violation would cost $209, according to a Senate bill report.
Texting-while-driving tickets aren’t currently made part of a driver’s record and aren’t reported to insurance companies or employers. Under an adopted amendment to Senate Bill 5656, a driver’s first violation would not be reported to his or her insurance company or employer, but succeeding infractions would be. All infractions would go on a driver’s record.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said the bill would make insurance rates skyrocket for those ticketed under the new law, and said high insurance prices might force people to drive uninsured.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, rebutted: “If you’re worried about your insurance rates going up, you drive without using your cellphone.”
Shelly Baldwin, spokeswoman for the state traffic-safety commission, said that the commission approved amendments to the bill and supported the version that passed the Senate.
A similar attempt to modify the existing law by former state Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, died in the Senate’s Rules Committee.
SB 5656 has not yet been assigned to a House panel or scheduled for a hearing.
Correction: Information in this article, originally published March 10, 2015, was corrected March 15, 2015. A previous version of this story omitted the first name of Sen. Curtis King.
Information in this article, originally published March 10, 2015, was corrected March 15, 2015. A previous version of this story omitted the first name of Sen. Curtis King.