Washington’s distracted driving law would be updated for the first time since 2007 — before the iPhone was on the market — under a bill passed Tuesday in the state Senate.
Right now, state law bans only texting and holding a phone to you ear while driving. Sending emails, posting to social media and even playing videos behind the wheel is legal.
Senate Bill 5656 would make it illegal to hold a phone altogether while driving. Drivers caught violating the law would face a $124 fine. Two violations in five years and the amount would double.
Senators amended the bill on the floor so the first violation will not be shared with insurance companies or employers, unless the driver holds a commercial license.
Supporters say the bill, requested by the state Traffic Safety Commission, would make it easier to enforce the state’s distracted driving law. Troopers gave tickets to fewer than half of the 2,500 drivers pulled over for texting and driving in 2013. That’s at least in part due to a loophole that lets drivers get out of tickets.
Critics say it takes away personal liberties. Prime sponsor Sen. Ann Rivers says it’s worth it to make Washington safer. “At what point do we let the personal liberties and freedoms of others be impacted because there’s a text that just can’t wait?” the La Center Republican said.
Sen. Jim Hargrove spoke in opposition, saying drivers can be just as distracted by eating a burger or putting on makeup. “We ought to focus on the activity of distracted driving and not all of the things we can do to it,” the Hoquiam Democrat said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety last year made more than $20 million available in federal grants as part of a distracted driving program. Washington did not qualify because of its outdated law.
The bill passed 35-14. It now heads to the state House.