DAVE ROSS

Washington senator amazed at the distracted driving she sees

Jan 5, 2017, 10:30 AM | Updated: 12:37 pm
Distracted driving, Washington, lawmaker...
(File, Associated Press)
(File, Associated Press)

Republican Sen. Ann Rivers can’t believe some of the things she sees on the road.

“I’m on the freeway all the time and I see the most amazing things,” she says.

No, she’s not talking about the scenery. She’s talking about what people are doing in their vehicles. For example, while driving to Olympia, Rivers says she spotted a woman watching “House of Cards” on her phone. The phone was attached to the steering wheel.

Related: Are Northwest drivers so bad we need regular re-testing?

That’s why Rivers, of La Center, and Democrat Rep. Jessyn Farrell, of Seattle, are drafting a bill that would ban virtually all use of handheld devices by drivers. The bill, which would create what is tentatively being called the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act, would go much further than the state’s current distracted driving law.

Under the current law, drivers caught using their handheld devices receive a $124 ticket that isn’t reported to their insurance. The crimes include texting and talking on the phone without a wireless device.

But Rivers says Washington’s driving law is too outdated.

Under the new law, if approved, the penalty for distracted driving would double or perhaps triple. Drivers would also receive a warning for their first violation. Any violations thereafter would be reported to drivers’ insurance companies, causing their rates to go up, Rivers told Seattle’s Morning News.

Essentially, drivers wouldn’t be able to interact with their mobile devices once they were on the road. There would be a few exceptions, but social media users would have to be without until they stopped driving.

The bill would, Rivers hopes, cut down on distracted driving, which caused nearly 3,500 deaths in the U.S. in 2015.

The Seattle Times reports deaths related to distracted driving in Washington increased from 130 in 2014 to 171 in 2015.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, from 2012 to 2014, a total of 1,336 people died from motor vehicle crashes in the state.

The state has a goal of zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. But distracted driving is making that goal a difficult one to reach. And Rivers says there is no “magic formula” to get people off their phones.

“I think, if we believe there is any magic to be performed here we are fooling ourselves,” she said. “Basically, what we’re saying to people is this is a serious problem and if you choose to participate in this activity it will have serious and long-lasting repercussions for you.”

A bill by Rivers to bar handheld devices in all but emergencies passed the Senate last year but died in the House. She’s hoping this new bill will have a different fate. She says that, so far, it “seems to be enjoying more support.”

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Washington senator amazed at the distracted driving she sees