Insurers applaud senate passage of distracted driver bill - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Insurers applaud senate passage of distracted driver bill

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SEATTLE, WA – Insurers are “pleased and hopeful,” after the Washington State Senate passed legislation (SB 5289) late on March 6th to prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving and to add penalties for other dangerous driving behaviors.

“Insurers are seeing in the data the same thing that so many drivers and pedestrians are witnessing on our roadways: too many drivers with one or both hands - as well as their eyes - on a cell phone or tablet while behind the wheel,” said Kenton Brine, NW Insurance Council. “We’re thankful that the Senate has taken a significant step in helping to discourage cell phone use and other distractions, and we are hopeful that the House will move swiftly to enact the bill.”

SB 5289 was approved on a 36-13 vote, and now moves to the House. A similar version of the bill was introduced in the House (HB 1371, by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle) and currently awaits a vote by the full chamber. Lawmakers typically choose to move one bill or the other, but not both unless there are significant differences in the two measures.

If enacted, the bill would go into effect on January 1st, 2018 and would:

  • Ban holding a cell phone or other personal electronic device, entering data/text (other than using one finger to “tap” a phone screen), transmitting texts or other information or viewing videos, newsfeeds or other information while operating a vehicle (including at stop lights or stopped in traffic).
  • Fine a first-time offender $136 (same as current law), and nearly double the fine to $235 for a second offense;
  • Add a new prohibition against “dangerously distracted” driving, which is defined as driving while engaged in non-driving activity that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle. This would be a “secondary offense,” which means the driver would have to be pulled over for another “primary” reason, such as speeding (or unlawful cell phone use, which is a primary offense).

The bill provides exemptions for emergencies as well as for law enforcement and some commercial drivers regulated under federal law. Some of the revenues resulting from the fines will be paid to the Distracted Driving Prevention Account, to improve driver education and prevent distracted driving-related auto accidents.

“Reducing auto accidents due to distracted driving should be everyone’s goal, to prevent deaths and injuries as well as to reduce the insurance costs and societal costs of traffic accidents,” Brine said. “We are grateful to Washington senators who moved SB 5289 forward, and we look forward to seeing favorable action in the state House.”