by A. R. Bunch
If you’ve been living under a rock you may not have heard that Washington State has become the latest in a string of states to tighten or expand their distracted driving law.
What has made this a big news item is Governor Jay Insley’s “partial veto” of an amendment to the bill which would have moved implementation of the new law from 2019 to pretty much NOW (July 23, 2017). His reasoning for this move, as stated in his partial veto is, “Public safety is better served by implementing this bill this year.” Washington State had set aside roughly $19,000 to begin educating people about the law and the reason for the law. By rushing the law, the governor seems to be saying the need and solution to distracted driving are self-evident. It leaves the state rushing to explain the law to its citizens as well as scrambling to hire additional officers to enforce it.
Washington’s new law follows Arkansas, North Dakota, and Colorado in labeling distracted driving as Driving Under the Influence of Electronics or DUIE. The move, which seems like a no brainer is none the less a bit controversial when under a microscope.
No one questions that distracted driving has become a serious threat to road safety, with nearly one-third of state traffic fatalities blamed on some form of distraction. With the proliferation of cell phones and other internet-connected gadgetry the old law, banning texting while driving was inadequate according to proponents of the new law.
Opponents of the law aren’t necessarily fans of distracted driving. However, this new law draws a very serious correlation between driving under the influence of a chemical that impairs judgment and reflexes to a sober use of electronic devices. By making it a primary offense, it now goes on your permanent driving record and will forever impact your insurance rates. You can now be pulled over for it and cited even if you’ve not actually shown signs of being distracted.
Opponents seem less concerned about the doubled fine from $136 to $235 than the message sent through the hypocritical message sent through reclassifying only this one type of distraction to something so close in our minds to driving drunk.
For example, you may now swipe your phone with one finger to accept a ping as a rideshare driver if your phone is in a holder on your dashboard. If you pull to a complete stop at a traffic light then take your phone out of the holder, plug a cord into the bottom, then put it back in the holder, you’re now guilty of DUIE. You can be pulled over, fined, and your insurance rates will go up as they would if you blew 0.08 on a breathalyzer. If the person next to you at that light is reading a book and doesn’t notice the yellow light, slams on their brakes and stops a bit over the line, they can be pulled over and given a $30 fine for distracted driving.
So be careful in Washington State and if you’re in a state that’s considering such a law, perhaps don’t rush it. Learn from the states that have gone before you and write something that’s effective and fair, and take the time to explain to your residents how it will work and why it’s necessary. Perhaps the Governor doesn’t drive himself around so it doesn’t seem that big a deal.