Bill to limit cell phone use advances in Washington

| 3/8/2007

A bill that would require drivers in Washington state to keep their hands off the phone is moving forward in the Senate. The bill isn't the only effort in the statehouse to curb distracting activities while behind the wheel.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 11-3 to advance a bill 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 measure would make driving while using a hand-held phone a secondary offense - meaning drivers would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone.

The bill - SB5037 - would exempt emergency calls.

Eide wrote in the bill that "while wireless communications devices have assisted with quick reporting of road emergencies, their use has also contributed to accidents and other mishaps . When motorists hold a wireless communications device in one hand and drive with the other their chances of becoming involved in a traffic mishap increase."

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving.

In fact, research by the University of North Carolina determined that cell-phone use ranked eighth in terms of distraction, The Patriot-News reported.

While Eide's bill advances in the Senate as a pair of similar efforts are moving through the state's House. The first bill - HB1214 - would ban text messaging while driving.

Sponsored by Rep. Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, the bill would prohibit operating a motor vehicle while reading, writing or sending a message on an electronic wireless device. Law enforcement would have authority to pull over offending drivers.

The second bill - HB1153 - focuses on beginning drivers. People who hold instruction permits and intermediate licenses would be prohibited from using hand-held and hands-free devices while driving, under a bill offered by Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup. Violation of the ban would be a primary offense.

Both bills have been forwarded to the House floor for consideration.