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

| Friday, April 14, 2006

Once again, a bill in the Washington Legislature that would require drivers to keep their hands off the phone has died.

Senators voted 28-19 to send the bill to the House but it met fierce opposition, ultimately leading to the bill’s demise.

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

The measure – SB5160 – called for making it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning drivers would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators would have faced a $101 fine.

It would have exempted emergency calls.

Currently, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. However, several more states are debating whether to adopt similar rules.

This way Eide’s seventh attempt at passing a cell-phone restriction. Her latest effort followed more studies that show hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting.

A recent Insurance Institute of Highway Safety study indicated that drivers using phones were four times as likely to be in crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Researchers found that the increased crash risk was consistent for those using either hand-held or hands-free phones.

Convinced that she is right, Eide said she plans to bring the matter back before lawmakers next year.

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