SB 5656: Strengthening Washington’s Distracted Driving Laws

By request of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Senator Ann Rivers (R-La Center) introduced legislation today to strengthen our state’s distracted driving laws. SB 5656 will help to protect those that walk and bike from preventable injuries and deaths caused by texting and talking while driving.

largenocellphones-png-mdPop Quiz I: What increases a driver’s crash risk by 23 times?

Answer: Texting while driving.

Pop quiz II: What increases a driver’s crash risk by four times?

Answer: Simply talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device.

Since 2010, when Washington Bikes helped lead the successful lobbying to start to reduce distracted driving, it’s even more obvious that distracted driving affects all of us. Distraction contributes to 26% of fatal crashes in Washington state.  SB 5656 will work to close loopholes and stiffen penalties to reduce this growing concern, especially as smart phones become more and more central to people’s lives. This legislation is a priority in the Washington Bikes 2015 Legislative Agenda.

It’s no surprise to most of us to learn that electronic distraction when driving is growing. A recent study by Harborview’s Dr. Beth Ebel shows that nearly one out of every ten Washington state drivers is engaged with a handheld device at any moment.

Senator Ann Rivers (R - La Center) is sponsoring a bill to strengthen distracted driving laws in Washington.

Senator Ann Rivers (R – La Center) is sponsoring a bill to strengthen distracted driving laws in Washington.

Like all traffic injuries and deaths, distracted driving is a preventable problem.

Reducing distracted driving helps create a culture of safety for drivers and the most vulnerable roads users – children, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The risks around distraction can be more intense because bicyclists and pedestrians – including children – are less visible and more prone to go unnoticed by distracted drivers, with tragic consequences.

SB 5656 improves upon the current law by broadening the definition so that any person (with much narrower exceptions) operating a motor vehicle while holding a personal wireless communications device is guilty of a traffic infraction. It closes loopholes such as being able to use one’s phone while stopped at an intersection or stoplight (currently legal), it also expands the definitions of handheld uses to ban texting and email use on smart phones. Additional violations receive twice the penalty, plus violations go on one’s driver record for insurance purposes. Finally, distracted driving would be included in Department of Licensing exams (currently they are not).

These are common sense fixes that provide law enforcement more tools to stop distracted driving and to stiffen consequences.

It’s now time to improve Washington state’s distracted driving laws. Keep in touch with us by signing-up to Washington Bikes’ alerts to help us pass this important safety legislation.

[Tweet “Thx @Senator_Rivers for making distracted driving laws stronger. I’m w/@WAbikes on this. #WAleg

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