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

| 2/27/2006

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

Senators recently voted 28-19 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 violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators would face a $101 fine.

It would exempt emergency calls.

Currently, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. That list may grow, however, as more studies underline the risks and dangers of driving while talking on the phone.

A recent study found that using cell phones while driving can distract drivers, regardless whether they’re using a hands-free device.

The human brain can’t simultaneously give full attention to both auditory and visual tasks, according to research by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In other words, if you’re on the phone, you’re brain can’t devote as much attention to driving.

To make matters worse, research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says driver cell phone use increased in 2005 by 1 percent to 6 percent nationwide, compared to 5 percent in 2004.

The 2005 rate translates into 974,000 vehicles on the road being driven by someone on a hand-held phone at any given daylight moment, Reuters reported. It also translates into an estimated 10 percent of vehicles in the typical daylight moment whose driver is using some type of phone, whether hand-held or hands-free.

Eide’s bill – SB5160 – has since passed the House Transportation Committee and been forwarded to the House Rules Committee for further consideration.