School is ending, summer is starting and lawmakers are still negotiating a two-year operating budget.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, is hoping to capitalize on the double overtime legislative session by renewing interest in her distracted driving bill.
“We’re at a time of year where we’re going to see a tremendous spike in serious accidents involving a lot of young people. … Kids are graduating, celebration is in the air, but the downside is people are not making the best decisions,” Rivers said.
Her measure sailed out of the Senate during the regular legislative session but stalled in the House. Lawmakers were slated to adjourn in April but needed special sessions to continue budget talks.
Rivers’ measure would expand the state’s current ban on texting or talking while driving to include reading or entering information into a wireless device. Checking social media on a smartphone or tablet while driving would result in a $209 ticket for a second offense under one draft of Rivers’ measure.
Rivers said she’s gaining support for the bill in the House and “there is widespread recognition” that something has to be done about distracted driving.
Laws on the subject were last changed in 2008 to ban drivers from talking on the phone without a hands-free device. Since then, technology has changed drastically, Rivers said.
“Candidly, the technology wasn’t the same and what we can do with the technology; the Twitter, the Facebook, the Instagram,” Rivers said.
Rivers said shortly after the measure failed in the House, a fatal accident in Kent helped bolster her argument. A 25-year-old man drove into oncoming traffic and crashed head-on into another car, killing a woman. The man reportedly was believed to be looking at his phone, Rivers said.
The debate over using cellphones while driving is being waged across the nation. There are 46 states, plus Washington, D.C., that ban text messaging for all drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. There are 14 states that ban all drivers from using handheld phones.
In 2014, Washington State troopers pulled over 22,496 vehicles on suspicion of distracted driving due to cellphone use and gave 11,053 citations, according to Maggie Booker, with the State Patrol. In 2013, troopers pulled over 20,311 drivers and wrote 9,179 citations.
Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, said she often considers the cultural and behavioral changes that need to take place surrounding driving and technology. People used to pull over and take a look at the “old McNally road map,” Pike said.
She agreed something needs to be done to ensure that “when we get in the car, we’re focused on driving, not navigating,” but she declined to say whether she would support Rivers’ bill in its current draft.
Lawmakers have until the end of the month to strike a budget deal or face a partial government shutdown.