Bill to limit drivers' cell phone use advances in Washington state

| 4/6/2005

A bill has passed out of the Washington state Senate that would require drivers to keep their hands off the phone.

Senators recently voted 28-18 to send legislation to the House that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving in the state. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

Sponsored by Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, the bill would make it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning they would have to be pulled over for another offense before they could receive a cell-phone ticket. 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.”

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.

SB5160 is in the House Transportation Committee.