Text someone or talk on a cell phone without a headset while you’re driving, and you could find yourself in trouble in the state of Washington.
For the last three years, the state has been at the national forefront when it comes to cracking down on these dangerous driving practices, which are a leading cause of traffic accidents.
In 2007, Washington became the first state in the country to pass a law that banned texting while driving. Eighteen other states have since followed Washington’s lead by adopting similar bans, while the federal government now prohibits any federal employee from sending text messages while driving government vehicles or using government-issued cell phones in a car.
In 2008, lawmakers passed more legislation that made the state one of only six in the country to ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving.
Under current law, however, texting or talking on a handheld cell phone are both secondary offenses, meaning that drivers can only be ticketed for them if they are pulled over by police for another infraction, such as speeding.
A new proposed measure, however, would strengthen the existing law by making those primary offenses, meaning police could pull over drivers specifically for texting or talking on a handheld phone and give them a $124 fine.
The bill, S.B. 6345, passed the Senate in February. It also bans any cell phone use by a driver with a learner’s permit or an intermediate license, which is given to drivers under the age of 18.
Several recent studies highlight the hazards of texting or talking on a cell phone while driving and point to the need for laws that can cut down on drivers being distracted by these devices.
According to a study by the National Safety Council, more than one-fourth of all traffic accidents in the country occur while drivers are talking on their cell phone or sending text messages.
Another study, by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, claims that cell phone users are four times more likely to crash than non-distracted drivers, while a Virginia Tech study asserts that drivers who are texting while behind the wheel are 20 times more likely to be in a wreck.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 80 percent of all crashes nationally involve some form of driver inattention.
The law firm of Selander O’Brien PLLC applauds the state for being one of the first in the country to recognize the serious dangers posed by these driving practices.
But simply recognizing the hazard isn’t enough. Aggressive police enforcement and education are the keys to avoiding needless accidents and saving lives.