Washington state toughens texting, cell phone restrictions

| 4/2/2010

The feds are putting pressure on truckers to run, not walk, away from any device used to send text messages while at the wheel. At the same time, a new law in Washington state is intended to discourage everyone from driving distracted.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that makes it a primary offense to be caught driving with a cell phone to your ear, or to be reading, writing or sending text messages. It takes effect June 10.

Previously SB6345, the new law strengthens the state’s secondary offense for both violations, which has limited police to writing up $124 tickets only if they stop violators for another offense, such as speeding.

Drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses, which are given to drivers under age 18, will be prohibited from using any cell phone.

Exceptions are made for reporting emergencies in both the adult and under-18 provisions.

Washington state isn’t alone in pursuing strict rules on texting while driving. Earlier this month in Wyoming a bill signed by Gov. Dave Freudenthal banned all drivers from texting while at the wheel.

As of July 1, Wyoming will become the 20th state to outlaw texting while driving. Elsewhere, efforts to adopt similar bans are being hotly pursued in numerous statehouses around the country. One such bill in Iowa has advanced to the governor’s desk.

Critics say texting bans are difficult to enforce. Supporters say many laws are difficult to enforce, but that is no reason to reject it. They also say a ban sends a message to the public that texting is unsafe.

Distracted driving is also getting a lot of attention at the federal level. The U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled a proposal Wednesday, March 31, that would elevate texting while driving a truck or bus to its most serious category.

If approved, three violations in a three-year period would result in a 120-day suspension – the same penalty truck drivers face if they’ve been cited in three fatality wrecks during that same time period.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Washington in 2010, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.