Texting and Driving
Texting and Driving

The Times reports that safety legislation that aims to reduced distracted driving has passed in the House, although less encompassing in form than what originally passed in the Senate. The House bill would limit 16- and 17-year old drivers from using cell phones for calling or texting. Unlike the original Senate bill it does not change driving while talking on a phone without a hands free device from a secondary offense to a primary offense for all other drivers.

The House’s failure to change this just begs drivers to break the law. Its like saying the speed limit is 55 but police can’t give you a ticket  unless you are driving 70. Laws must be readily enforceable or else they are pointless. Half measures like this lead to abuse, making it that much harding to change behavior when the law is strengthened. And the state is already seeing abuse of the current secondary offense based law. A PEMCO study shows that over the last 20 months talking on a cell phone without a hands free device has increase from 17% to 43% and 3% to 20% for texting.

What really gets me is quotes like this from Rep. Dan Roach (R-Bonney Lake) “The libertarian in me comes out with these types of issues”… “It’s not a Democrat and Republican issue. It’s a personal-choice issue.” Huh?

Drinking and driving isn’t a personal choice it is a public safety issue. Distracted driving isn’t any different.

28 Replies to “Distracted Driving Legislation Update”

  1. I still don’t think they should ticket people for this. Sure, there’s a safety issue there, but it comes down to being a responsible driver. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not in the same category as drinking and driving. And just for the record, I haven’t been a driver in over 6 months. Pedestrian and transit user only!

    1. See this is my problem when someone say it comes down to being responsible. I agree that everyone should be a responsible driver but what is responsible to one person is reckless to another. That is what laws are for. They set a baseline at which everyone in society understands what is acceptable.

      In my mind a responsible driver is a driver focused on the road and there surroundings. Both alcohol and using a cell phone physically and mental inhibit your ability to do that. That is what every single study shows and I don’t see any reason to treat them differently.

      1. I agree with Adam. I attempt to avoid using my phone at all when driving in urban areas because I am fully cognizant that my awareness of my surroundings diminishes when I’m splitting focus between driving and conversing.

        One thing I’ve been wondering: Where does mobile internet usage fall under these laws? For example, back in June WSDOT published a press release regarding the I-90 mainline closures which initially read:
        “During construction WSDOT will send real-time traffic conditions via Twitter. Commuters can sign up to receive the information while they’re in their vehicles to help them choose their routes once they leave home.”
        The statement was revised after I pointed out to the public relations contact the fallacy of a state agency promoting use of mobile devices after the state legislature had passed laws banning texting, but I am curious how mobile internet use, where one is interacting with the device but not necessarily actively sending anything which could be construed as a text message, is handled under the state’s laws.

      2. I don’t know exactly. I haven’t had time to read the legislation. If you have time to look let me know.

  2. There’s no doubt that talking on a cell phone while driving makes you more likely to get in an accident. You know what else makes you just as likely? Having an engaged conversation with a passenger, or how about eating while driving, or drinking hot coffee. Listening to music and singing along can be distracting too.

    Legislating on this only instance is just a political platitude and we don’t have the man power in the police department to enforce a primary offense properly. We need a better solution to distracted driving than a law that no one is going to follow and will not be enforced.

    1. Curiously enough, just this morning I found the following law in the City of Tacoma Municipal Code:

      11.05.130 Driving while eating or drinking.
      It is unlawful for any person to operate any vehicle
      upon the public highways of the City of Tacoma
      while eating any food or drinking any beverage.
      (Ord. 25247 § 2; passed Dec. 22, 1992: Ord. 25208
      § 3; passed Nov. 24, 1992: Ord. 18595 § 7; passed
      Jun. 4, 1968. Formerly 11.12.010)

    2. I completely agree. But lets look at it this way. Talking with friends in the car is distracting because it engages your mind with other tasks. So does talking on a cell phone, it divides your attention. Eating while driving makes it harder for you to keep an eye on the road. So does talking on a cell phone, especially when for example you have to crook your head over to keep it from dropping. Drinking hot coffee is dangerous because it uses a hand that should otherwise be on the wheel. Texting or holding a phone to you head does the same thing.

      So yes all of these are distractions that should be illegal but cell phones have the worst attributes of many different distractions and that is why it should be singled out for specific and strong legislation. Per Dave’s comment eating is already illegal at least in Tacoma. Drivers with intermediate license can’t drive with friends. So I guess coffee is the only target remaining. I wonder what Starbucks has to say about that.

    3. There are a few studies that appear to demonstrate that cell phone conversations differ from conversations with a passenger. For one thing, the passenger is aware of the traffic situation and will pause the conversation or alert the driver if needed.


      1. That’s why when I’m having a conversation with someone who I know is using a cellphone while driving, I will occasionally scream “Watch out for that truck!”.

    4. There are several studies showing that texting and talking are at least as impairing as being drunk. Do you have any such study that shows that talking, eating, or listening to music are “just as likely” to get you into an accident?

    1. I am amazed that cell phone usage is still not a primary offense while driving a motor vehicle.

      Yes, smoking and driving should also be a primary offense. Has any smoker ever dropped a cigarette between their legs while driving? I sure as hell have, when I used to smoke two packs of Marlboros every day. Quit in 1990. After I quit, the first thing I replaced was the tar laden ashtray in my ’84 Fiat Spider.

      Am I an evangelical non-smoker now? Heck no! Cigarette smoke truly does not bother me. But, boy, smoking is certainly an embarrasing, goofy, and dangerous habit!

    2. Not sure any insurance companies do it today, but Farmers used to offer lower auto insurance rates for non-smokers.

    3. A relative of mine used to be able to roll her own cigarettes while driving without taking her eyes off the road.

  3. I’ve had several drivers try to run me over at a crosswalk. All were adults. All but one were on a phone, and not looking where they were turning. The other was 80ish and clearly legally blind.

    This amendment is about voter demography, not safety. The underlying issue is clearly about safety.

    If people need to talk on the phone or text during their commute, transit is the way to go. Sure, it might annoy fellow riders, but at least it is safe.

    1. I have a foolproof method for getting inattentive drivers to stop as when making right turns while I’m in a crosswalk.

      Stare at their license plate. Act as if you’re burning the numbers into your brain as the last act before they take you to the hospital.

      In some instances, I will read the license plate and then scream the numbers out to everyone around me.

      Somehow the threat of lawsuit makes the boldest motorist wet his seat covers.

  4. Seattle’s #1 rail critic, John Niles, thinks the solution to all of our transportation problems lies in the inclusion of MORE electronic communications devices in cars.

    Brilliant, no?

  5. Speaking of John Niles and his corporate sponsors – this watered down safety measure is all about our legislators being BOUGHT by the cell phone industry. The were happy to ‘compromise’ by targeting teens only. But the suits know that mommy and daddy still pay the cell phone bill. So no harm to the bottom line this round. Of course, mommy minivan blowing through the crosswalk – chattering away on the phone – ain’t going away.

    Every once in a while I will follow these dangerous drivers to whatever parking lot they are headed for. When you tell the minivan mom that she just blew through a red light, nearly ran down a child in a crosswalk, or changed lanes into somebody else without signaling (thanks to the cell phone cradled in her neck) guess what inevitably ensues?

    Yet it’s MY FAULT for being rude.

    See, the distracted driver has been trained by big business marketing campaigns that it is their birthright to kill and maim. Just so long as that nail appointment is made.

    Near misses are the cell phone industry’s best friend. Each year they prevent common sense safety reforms from being enacted is another year they make $250 k on that ATT contract. It’s really disgusting, when you think about it.

  6. Except that there is no evidence that these bans actually reduce accident rates. The number of cell phone subscribers, and those that use them while driving, has soared, but accident rates have been on a slow downward path. States that have enacted bans have not seen greater reductions in rates than other states.

    Waste of time.

    1. Transportation engineers don’t measure accidents, they measure collisions. [ad hominem]

    2. Your comment doesn’t match common sense. 15 years ago few had cell phone so obviously there were few accident caused by cell phones. Today many of accidents occur because of cell phones, killing thousands of people. To anyone sensible that is a cause or action. I find it abhorrent that you and people that fight legislation like this find it acceptable to dismiss thousands of deaths every year as something not important. Shame on you.

  7. Thank you, Adam. This whole subject makes me sick to my stomach. Both my bikes (a Marin commuter hybrid and Lightspeed Firenze titanium-frame road bike) are hanging in my garage unused because it is unsafe for cyclists on the cycle route along 118th Ave SE. The situation on 118th is an accident waiting to happen; there’s a drag racing problem with vehicles going over twice the legal speed limit. Plus there’s huge industrial vehicles commuting through the neighborhood and being driven like weapons. Why doesn’t the City of Bellevue Engineering Department do anything despite repeated complaints? For a partial answer see my previous Op-Ed on the blog about some being more equal than others in Bellevue.

    It’s only a question of time before a cyclist is hit. Cyclists need another option to get to and from Seattle and Bellevue. And believe me, I know of what I speak because my bedroom is on 118th.

    Please go to this bicycle advocacy site http://www.eastsidetrailadvocates.org/ Action Center, Action Template Petition. Fill in your information, and submit the petition to all the organizations (just click the boxes).

    Then go to http://www.eastsidetrailadvocates.org/Petition.aspx to sign the other petition.

    Finally, open Facebook, enter Eastside Trail Advocates in the Search box, click Become a Fan.

    Promoting this worthy cause has the added advantage of screwing with Kemper Freeman and Kevin Wallace’s plan to promote B7 (aka the anti transit plan). B7 would run along the old BNSF corridor which was never designed for passenger rail, and doesn’t serve the Bellevue city center. A rail alignment that doesn’t serve the downtown where people need to go, and that would get people out of their cars? Go figure. The City of Bellevue needs an ethics law now to stop this interference in what’s supposed to be a functioning democracy.

    1. Wow Kirkland residents are really dominating that petition. Where are all the Bellevue residents?

      1. I moved to 118th Ave because of the cycle route, and proximity to trails in Mercer Slough. I do cycle, just not as much as I’d like to. Be careful if you use 118th because it is (sadly) an accident waiting to happen.

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