State lawmakers approved stricter distracted driving definitions and penalties for all Washington State drivers. No more loopholes for social media usage, selfies, snapchats, or playing Asphalt-Extreme while behind the wheel. If you’re caught using your technological device for more than one finger pressing start on a navigation app, you’ll be fined and your insurance will hear about it. This means higher rates just like you’d be hit with for any other moving violation.

The law is called the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act. Fitting name, isn’t it? Because the effects of distracted driving are at least as bad as being drunk enough to qualify for another popular and deadly type of moving violation – DUI of alcohol and drugs. Take it from Mythbusters, who compared a drunk driver with a guy driving while talking on the phone. They found that the drunk driver performed better than the talker. For data fans, the National Safety Council backs this up with multiple studies on the dangers of distracted driving, and here’s the oft-cited University of Utah study itself that found using a cell phone while driving is on par with a .08 BAC. All this info convinced lawmakers to approve this new bill 61-36 in the House and 39-10 in the Senate.

The delay was a trade-off that the Bill’s sponsor agreed to in order to require that these offenses must be reported to insurers. The delay was approved so that the public would have time to adjust to the new requirements. This should give time for the state to conduct education campaigns about it, for motorists to integrate hands-free technologies into their cars, and for the State Patrol to hire more troopers. 

Washington’s previous distracted driving bill went into effect before the first iPhone was released, which the bill didn’t apparently foresee. The iPhone was a giant leap from those old flip phones to the more or less affordable but completely ubiquitous smart phones which we all know and love today. The previous bill only clamped down on conversations and texting – and didn’t dream of phones with cameras and an app store that currently sells 3.8 Million different apps on Google Play alone.

This bill is supposed to remedy those previous misses, but so it goes with gadget development – what kinds of devices and distractions will be available to drivers in two years? And what about the research that shows that even hands-free devices aren’t any safer than hand-helds? Here’s an opinion about research showing hands free devices are not safer than hand helds, and in fact in some ways are more dangerous. The bottom line is that brains aren’t able to multi-task. We can only concentrate on one task at a time, and driving is a task that requires our full attention.

I’m glad that this is one more way of raising the bar against distracted driving. However, don’t rely on the law to keep us safe. It’s there to penalize people who make mistakes, as well as in some way educate folks on what not to do or else pay the price. Until cars can truly, safely drive themselves, we should focus on the job of driving while we’re driving. That’s all. Get your navigation app going before you start going down the road. Save that phone call or response until you’re stopped (and not briefly, as in at a stoplight.) It can wait.

My high school scholarship contest winner’s essay about easy ways to help avoid distracted driving offers great insight and advice. 




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