Washington lawmakers proposed a bill for this year’s legislative session aiming to ban all usage of handheld devices behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Calling and texting while driving has been illegal in Washington since 2007 and is punishable by a $124 fine, but the use of apps or other activity have not been outlawed.
Washington state legislators are seeking to change that by introducing House Bill 1371, the “Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act.”
Using hands-free devices have never been affected by Washington state laws.
The amount of crashes due to distracted driving increased steadily over the years. According to the Department of Transportation, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 were injured in accidents involving distracted drivers in 2014, which was the last year data was available.
University Chief of Police Darin Rasmussen said distracted driving is any activity that takes attention away from the primary task of driving. Using apps, calling and texting all fall into this category.
“I don’t think eating a cheeseburger driving down the road [puts] you in that condition,” Rasmussen said. “But I do think it’s arguable that making a cell phone call is the same as being at a .08 [ Blood Alcohol Concentration].”
In 2016, University Police made 13 total stops for texting, 12 of which ended with the driver receiving a ticket. For Western, the ratio for tickets to stops were much higher in distracted driving cases compared to general traffic stops. Rasmussen said it was almost a 1-1 ratio.
Rasmussen said texting and driving is the greatest distraction facing drivers today.
In 2010, when using cellphones to text or call while driving became a primary offense in Washington state, University Police cracked down on the offense by not allowing any grace period for drivers adjusting to the new state law.
“Even if they aren’t actively texting or calling, I still can tell it has a huge impact on their driving.”
Junior Jarita Hui, an education major, occasionally reads text messages while at stop signs and thinks the proposed bill is fair. While the bill would ban all handheld device usage, it would still allow hands-free devices.
Hui thinks Bluetooth is a good option that is already available to drivers.
“If you have Bluetooth built into your car, you can make use of it,” Hui said. You could simply tell Siri what song to play rather than fiddling with a device, she said.
Psychology professor Ira Hyman doesn’t think the proposed bill goes far enough.
Hyman is a cognitive psychologist who has studied primarily attention and memory. In his work with attention, he’s focused on the failures to become aware of something in a situation due to focus on something else. For example, not noticing a stop sign because your attention is directed at sending a text message. (Hyman :11-15)
“It’s what your head is doing,” Hyman said. “Not what your hands are doing.”
Hyman said the problem is not the physical act of talking on the phone. The problem is where your attention is focused.
A cellphone conversation is utterly disruptive, whether it’s made through Bluetooth or not, Hyman said.
Hyman said many people are under the illusion they’re aware of the world when they truly aren’t.
“We think we’re fine driving while talking on our cell phones because we don’t see all the things we aren’t seeing,” Hyman said.
The bill would potentially raise the ticket fine from $124 to $350, according to The Seattle Times
Western student Risa Askerooth is in support of the bill. Askerooth has seen the effects of distracted driving from watching her parents in the car.
“Even if they aren’t actively texting or calling, I still can tell it has a huge impact on their driving,” Askerooth said.
The bill was proposed on Jan. 18 in Washington’s 2017 legislative session by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center and State Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle. It is currently in transit to a transportation committee where it will be reviewed.