Washington House Votes to Ban Handheld Cellphones While Driving

By ALEXIS MYERS | March 10, 2017

A Washington state measure to ban holding a phone while driving passed in the House a day after a similar measure passed in the Senate.

House Bill 1371 received a 52-45 vote in the Democratic-controlled House Tuesday.

Democratic Rep. Jessyn Farrell, the sponsor of the bill, said the measure is about safety and updating the current law “so that police officers can enforce this.”

Currently people are guilty of an infraction if they hold a phone to their ear while driving, or are caught text messaging.

Under the bill, drivers would be banned from holding any hand-held devices while driving including phones, tablets and other electronic devices, even while stopped in traffic. It would also double the fine, which is currently $136 if caught texting or holding a phone to the ear while driving for second and subsequent offenses within five years.

“We have an epidemic of using smartphones in our cars,” Farrell said. “We love our phones and can’t put them down while driving… You can still use that phone, but just don’t hold it in your hand.”

The new measure would allow the use of a finger to activate or deactivate a function of a device, such as using Siri on the iPhone, and the use of a built-in touch screen control panel within a vehicle to control basic functions like the radio or air conditioning.

Republican Rep. Morgan Irwin spoke in opposition to the bill because he said it creates a “class issue.” Irwin said he was concerned that some people, such as him, who might not have a car with a built-in touch screen and would be limited by this bill.

“We can have a car with a computer in its dash and use it all you want to, but if you can’t afford that car or you just have normal car then the only way to get directions to where you are going is to use that cellphone,” Irwin said.

Republican Rep. Dave Hayes also opposed the bill. He said he prefers to broaden the measure to include other dangerous distractions such as eating while driving, petting a dog in the back seat or putting on makeup. He said his main concern was that the bill only focuses on cellphones.

Exceptions to this new measure would include contacting emergency services, operating amateur radio stations and two-way or citizens band radio services and while operating tow trucks and other emergency vehicles.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures 14 states currently ban any hand-held cellphone use while driving in a car; however, 37 states and D.C. ban all cellphone use by beginner or teen drivers, including Washington. Forty-six states prohibit texting messaging for all drivers.

Republican Rep. Paul Harris said he wasn’t planning on voting yes on the legislation until he was distracted by his phone while driving last week.

He said he grabbed his phone to play a song and hit a cooler in the middle of the freeway.

“The cooler exploded all over the place,” he said. “I consider myself very lucky because it wasn’t a car, it wasn’t a deer, it wasn’t a kid, it was a Styrofoam cooler that had fallen out of someone’s car.”

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