A bill was introduced this week in the Washington legislature that would expand the ban on talking and texting while driving. While this is an infraction, not a crime, it is applicable to criminal law because police often use relatively minor traffic infractions to stop people and investigate a more serious crime (such as DUI, possession of drugs, firearms, ect.). Washington’s current laws, RCW 46.61.667 and RCW 46.61.668 outlaw texting and driving in addition to talking on your cell phone and driving. However, the law is very specific in that only “sending, reading, or writing a text message” and driving is illegal. So under Washington’s current law, if you are using your phone to check out your fantasy football team’s stats while driving, you are not violating this law. If you are writing an email to a friend and driving, you are not violating this law. If you are drafting your college thesis and driving, you are not violating this law (you get the point). No one can really argue that the law should not be updated, but should there be an outright ban on using your phone in your vehicle for any purpose?
The new bill expands the prohibition on texting and driving, It is illegal “to read or manually enter data including, but not limited to, short message service, texting, e-mailing, instant messaging, or engaging in any other form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication.”
The bill specifically defines “operating a motor vehicle” to include “operation of a motor vehicle while it is moving and while it is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic light, or a stop sign, and does not include when the vehicle has pulled over to the side of, or off, the roadway and has stopped in a location where it can safely remain stationary.” So you have to be completely off the roadway and parked before you can use your phone (no checking a text at a red light).
The bill deletes some exceptions that the current law includes. For instance, the new bill deletes the exception that “a person does not send, read, or write a text message when he or she reads, selects, or enters a phone number or name in a wireless communications device for the purpose of making a phone call.” So under the old law, you could enter a phone number into your phone to make a hands free call. Under the new proposed law, you cannot.
The old law said it was okay to use your phone as “a voice-operated global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the vehicle and that allows the user to send or receive messages without diverting visual attention from the road or engaging the use of either hand.” The new law takes this away and instead makes an exception for “a system that is physically or electronically integrated into a motor vehicle and provides the user with services such as emergency notification and navigation.” The new law is somewhat vague, but it appears to be prohibiting you from using Google maps for navigation as you drive unless your phone is ” physically or electronically integrated into” your car.
And finally, the old law specifically stated that infractions for texting and talking while driving “shall not become part of the driver’s record” and “shall not be made available to insurance companies or employers” (so insurance companies don’t get a chance to jack up your rates for the offense). The new law takes these protections away and instead doubles the fines for repeat offenders (within a five year period).
The proposed bill will probably be modified before it becomes law, but it does appear to ban essentially all cell phone use while driving. I’ll update this post with the final bill but if you either agree, or do not agree with proposed bill, contact your representatives and tell them what you think. You can track the progress of this bill here. There is a public hearing scheduled for February 9, 2015.