According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eight people die every day as a result of a crash with a distracted driver. About 1,160 are injured. Distracted driving has been broadly defined by the CDC as “any activity that takes your attention away from driving.” Those might consist of any number of activities, but in our present society, distracted driving primarily focuses on drivers using smart phones while they’re in control of a vehicle that’s in motion.
The five second distraction
The CDC relates that there are three types of skills that we all use when we’re driving. Those are:
- Visual by keeping your eyes on the road
- Manual by keeping your hands and feet on the wheel and pedals
- Cognitive by keeping your mind on driving
If you’re texting or social networking while driving, it’s likely that you’re attention has been diverted from all three of those skills. That creates a terribly dangerous situation for you and anybody on or about the highway near you. As the Virginia Tech Traffic Institute put it, if you’re texting and traveling at 55 mph, your eyes will be distracted from what’s happening in front of you for five seconds. That’s the same as driving the length of a football field blindfolded.
Washington’s distracted driving statute
Washington’s law on cellular device usage while driving is over 10 years old. Texting while driving is prohibited. So is having a cellular phone up to your ear, but you can still talk on a hands-free device. The cellular device statute never contemplated Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, but now, people are using those on their smart phones while they’re driving. It was the intent of the original 2007 law to phase out the use of handheld wireless devices by drivers. Innocent victims are being injured or killed by drivers who are distracted by even higher technology, and the Washington legislature now has some catching up to do fast.
The current numbers
Distracted driving deaths in Washington increased dramatically from 130 in 2014 to 171 in 2015. That 30 percent increase got the attention of many lawmakers in Olympia, and House Bill 1371 is now pending. It proposes barring all handheld devices except for emergencies. A similar bill died a natural death in the legislature in late 2015. Under HB 1371, use of a hands-free device while driving would be permitted.
As per the proposed changes in the law under the Driving Under the Electronics Act as it’s commonly called, hands-on use of a mobile device of any kind while driving will be against the law. One of the bill’s sponsors caustically relates that “texting while driving is against the law, but checking Facebook isn’t.” Proponents of HB 1371 want the present fine for hand-held device violations increased from $124 to $350. One legislator even wants violations treated like DUIs with fines of $1,000 for a conviction on a first offense, $1,500 for a second, and a felony conviction for a third. A fine of up to $10,000 could be ordered if children are in a vehicle during a violation.
Legislators are in agreement that if they go one step farther and try to prohibit hands-free devices, they won’t get a bill of that type passed. Regardless of what the legislature agrees on for 2017, technology will continue to outpace politicians. Distracted driving injures some people, and it takes the lives of others.