State Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, has filed a bill to forbid use of handheld devices by drivers.
A House bill filed Tuesday would make it illegal to hold a smartphone, tablet, or other communications device while driving in Washington state, and also forbid using dashboard-mounted devices that require more than the tap of a finger.
Watching any kind of video while driving also would be prohibited.
In 2015 a total 171 people in Washington died in crashes blamed on distractions, out of 568 total road deaths.
If passed, the restrictions proposed by state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.
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Previous attempts to update the laws governing smartphone use by motorists failed the past two years. Texting is already illegal, as are conversations while holding a phone next to the ear — but other apps and smartphone uses have proliferated since the initial 2008 distracted-driving law was approved.
Farrell’s 2017 bill still fails to address other hazards of hands-free devices, such as the distraction caused when a driver holds a conversation by phone or looks at a dashboard-mounted screen.
Farrell said the proposal represents what’s politically doable this year, based on her discussions with colleagues. And using fingers to text, or to scroll social media, consumes even more attention than hands-free devices, she said.
“We need to start somewhere. This is an applicable place,” she said.
A companion bill soon will be filed in the Senate by state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, under the title Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act.
“The other day I saw someone on the highway holding a tablet computer in the middle of the steering wheel, and it was clear the person was paying more attention to what was on the screen. That’s not driving — it’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” Rivers said in a statement. “This legislation basically says that if operating a phone or device takes more than one finger, then it had better wait until you’re safely off the road.”
On a related note, a bill to make a fourth drunk-driving offense a felony has been filed by state Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and 13 co-sponsors, from both parties. A driver who killed two people in a crosswalk near a north Seattle middle school in 2013 had been arrested five times for DUI previously.