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WA Lawmakers Propose "Driving Under the Influence of Electronics" Act

Distracted-driving deaths have risen dramatically, prompting Washington state lawmakers to introduce a bill to stop it. (Sakkawokkie/iStock)
Distracted-driving deaths have risen dramatically, prompting Washington state lawmakers to introduce a bill to stop it. (Sakkawokkie/iStock)
February 22, 2017

OLYMPIA, Wash. – State lawmakers want to stop a habit that could be as harmful to Washingtonians as drinking and driving: using a cell phone while driving. Deaths from distracted driving have been on the rise in Washington state. Between 2014 and 2015, deaths rose from 130 to 171.

House Bill 1371, known as the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act, seeks to curb that by increasing the penalties for drivers caught on their phones.

Larry Shannon, the government affairs director for the Washington State Association for Justice, points to a study that showed drivers distracted by their phones have reaction times equivalent to someone whose blood-alcohol level is two-and-a-half times the legal limit.

"What's different, though, is if you're driving while you're impaired, you're impaired and you should not be behind the wheel," he said. "If you are driving while distracted, all you have to do is put that instrument down and you will regain your senses and your reaction time almost immediately."

The measure has received bipartisan support from lawmakers. It would increase fines for distracted driving and report the offense to courts and insurance companies, potentially leading to increased insurance rates.

Washington state has a law against texting while driving, but it doesn't ban any other uses of phones. Sponsors of the bill call the old law a flip-phone law in the smartphone era. During a public hearing on the bill at the beginning of the month, Shannon notes an unusual coalition of interests came together to support it.

"The insurance industry and the trial lawyers' association coming together to both strongly support this," he added. "Some great testimony from the construction industry about the dangers that distracted driving poses to a lot of their workers out along our roadways and highways in the state."

Shannon also notes a campaign on the website "EndDD.org." Sponsored by the Casey Feldman Foundation, the website is offering scholarships to teenagers who come up with the most creative videos warning about the dangers of distracted driving.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA