Earlier this week the Washington State House Transportation Committee passed through SB 6345, a new bill that would further prohibit cellphone use while driving, making having a phone in your hand a primary offense subject to traffic stops and a $124 fine, with the sole exception of emergency use only.
In July 2008 legislators made the use of handheld devices while driving a secondary offense, meaning police could only dock you for it if they see another violation before initiating a traffic stop. If passed, this law would make Washington the fifth state to elevate holding a cellphone while driving to a primary offense, alongside the District of Columbia.
36th District Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D), who is behind companion bill HB 2635 that would make texting while driving specifically a primary offense, has thrown his support behind SB 6345.
“I am excited that the House Transportation Committee has passed this bill. Parents and other volunteer citizen activists worked incredibly hard along with Sen. Eide and me for many, many months, and I look forward to doing all that I can to get this bill through the House,” Carlyle said in a written statement.
“We want drivers, and especially teenagers, to know they are not just operating a car, they are behind the wheel of a 3,000-pound weapon, and they have a moral and public obligation to operate them safely. No one likes overregulation, but this is a matter of public safety and we could all do worse than to get on board with Oprah Winfrey’s cause.”
SB 6345 would be even stricter for those with driver’s permits and intermediate licenses, disallowing the use of hands free devices such as headsets and even the speakerphone feature.
Our news partner, the Seattle Times, is reporting that opinions are divided on the regulation of the new bill, and the severity of the penalties. Though proponents cite studies indicating that using a cellphone while driving produces results on par to driving drunk, others believe the act is no more of a distraction than a number of other inappropriate–and unregulated–behind the wheel activities, such as eating, applying makeup and smoking.
Aside from using cellphones as a scapegoat for a lack personal responsibility, many opponents also believe the bill is way for the state to collect more in taxes. From the Seattle Times:
Washington could stand to bring in a lot of revenue. In New York, the first state to make holding a cellphone reason enough for a traffic stop, police from 2001 to 2008 handed out 1.28 million tickets.
“I just think that it is an inappropriate use of police powers to pull people over and invade their privacy because they chose to talk on the phone while driving a car,” said Benton. “You cannot legislate responsibility. Citizens need to be responsible for themselves.”
Read the full Times story here. And tell us, what do you think? Are you for or against making handing a phone while driving a primary offense? (Disclosure: Rep. Reuven Carlyle is a sponsor of MyBallard.)