Lawmakers split on how tough to make distracted driving bill


by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

Posted on March 7, 2010 at 10:57 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 7 at 11:08 AM

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- While they all think texting while driving is a serious no-no, state senators and representatives appear to disagree on how tough to make a bill on drivers who use cell phones while driving.

Even on the interstate freeways, KING 5 observed several drivers with cell phones to their ears or texting while darting their eyes between their phones and the road.

"I do still see people using their cell phones out there on the road when they're driving, and it's a little scary," said driver Linda Leisure.

On Feb. 5, the Senate passed SB 6345 by a vote of 33-15.  The bill would prohibit "the use of a wireless communications device by a person holding a driver's instruction permit or an intermediate license while driving a motor vehicle" and also "changes the offense of using a wireless communications device while driving and the offense of sending, reading, or writing a text message while driving from secondary offenses to primary offenses," according to the bill digest.

While it is already illegal in Washington to use a cell phone without some kind of handsfree headset, the bill supporters hoped to restrict teen drivers from using cell phones entirely, as well as giving police the ability to pull over any driver who they spot testing or using a cell phone without a wireless device..

"I think it would cut down on adccidents and possible deaths on the road," said Leisure.

But many senators do not like the House version of the bill passed earlier this week, because it included an amendment they believe waters down their efforts.  The amendment, introduced by Bonney Lake Representative Dan Roach, leaves distracted cell-phone driving as a secondary offense for adults, though it does make texting a primary offense.

On Saturday morning, Senators passed a motion refusing to concur with the House amendments and asking the House to drop the changes, essentially telling the House, the entire bill has no teeth without an adult primary offense component.

Some drivers agree with the House bill, though, saying regulating distracted drivers too much is pointless.

"I don't think that's a legitimate cause to pull you over,"  said Raphael Lee. "If I was talking with a cup of coffee in my hand, would they pull me over for that?"

The House can take out the amendments or do the same thing the Senate did, sending their version back with no changes. If they keep disagreeing, the two houses will have a conference committee to look for compromise.