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

| 5/2/2005

An effort in the Washington state Legislature to require drivers to keep their hands off the phone has died.

The bill remained in committee at the end of the session April 24, effectively killing it for the year. It had previously passed the Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, SB5160 sought to ban hand-held cell phone use while driving in the state. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still have been permitted.

Eide’s measure would have made it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning they would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators could be fined more than $100.

It would have exempted emergency calls.

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

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

A recent 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 Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

“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.