TACOMA – A bipartisan effort by state lawmakers to target distracted driving received the governor’s endorsement today. The Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act updates the 2010 state law regarding the use of personal electronic devices by people when they are behind the wheel.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, worked together throughout this year’s legislative session to build support for the measure in the Senate and House of Representatives. It received strong bipartisan votes shortly before lawmakers concluded their regular legislative session April 23.
“I wish we didn’t need a stronger law, but it’s clear that people need a new reason to concentrate on the road ahead instead of something else in the car,” said Rivers. “I’ll bet most people who drive our highways have witnessed the kind of risky behavior this bill is meant to discourage.”
“Because of this bill, our law-enforcement officers will be able to do an even better job of keeping our roads safe,” Farrell said. “They see drivers holding phones and other devices all the time, but the wording of our law has made it extremely difficult for them to actually do anything about it. That will now change, and it will help save lives.”
Holding a cell phone to one’s ear or texting while driving is already prohibited under state law. But other uses of electronic devices – such as sending messages or posting photos through apps like Facebook, Instagram, or SnapChat – were not specifically prohibited because those technologies were not as prevalent in 2010.
Rivers and Farrell had proposed distracted-driving legislation in 2015 and 2016, respectively. After joining forces, they chose against proposing a measure that could quickly become outdated due to ever-changing technology, in favor of a straightforward approach. The Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act prohibits any holding of a personal electronic device, watching video on such a device, or using a hand or finger to use the device’s features – other than to activate or deactivate a function.
Pushing a button with one finger to initiate hands-free calling is permitted, as is the use of citizens’ band or ham radios in vehicles.
Legislators voted to have the updates take effect in 2019. However, Gov. Jay Inslee chose to veto that part of the bill today. Now the new law will instead take effect July 23, as will most other laws created during the legislative session that ended April 23.
“We wanted to give both drivers and law enforcement ample time to prepare for these stronger restrictions. Now that the governor has dramatically shortened the timeline, people need to be ready much sooner,” Rivers said.
The House passed Farrell’s version of the bill (House Bill 1371) in early March, just after the Senate adopted Rivers’ version (Senate Bill 5289). It was Rivers’ bill that reached Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk after changes proposed by Farrell were approved by both chambers.
The bill was signed along with two other impaired-driving measures, HB 1614, and SB 5037. All three measures support the state’s continued Target Zero efforts, which aim to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roadways to zero by 2030.