Bill would limit drivers' cell phone use in Washington state

| 2/17/2005

A Washington state lawmaker wants the state to join those that require drivers to keep their hands off the phone.

Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, has introduced legislation that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

The bill would make it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone. Violators could be fined more than $100. It would exempt emergency calls.

“We’re not banning them,” Eide told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “I just think it’s a common-sense law and it’s really watered down quite a bit from what I wanted, but that’s the art of compromise.”

Currently, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. Several states, however, are in the process of addressing the issue.

That may change as more studies underline the risks and dangers of driving while chatting on the phone.

A recently released study by the University of Utah found that when drivers between the ages of 18 and 25 talk on cell phones, they drive like elderly people – moving and reacting more slowly and increasing their risk of accidents.

“If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, his reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver,” David Strayer, a University of Utah psychology professor and principal author of the study, told the newspaper.

“It’s like instant aging,” he said.

Strayer said it doesn’t matter whether the phone is hand-held or hands-free, calling into question the effectiveness of legislation similar to that proposed by Edie. Any activity requiring a driver to “actively be part of a conversation” likely will impair driving abilities, Strayer said.

Eide’s bill – SB5160 – was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee Feb. 1 and has been sent to the full House for further consideration.