Blackberry causes pileup on freeway; WA ready to take action

Proof that people really do text and drive: A Blackberry-tapping driver caused a huge accident on Washington state's I-5. Legislators seize the moment to swing into action.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Coming on the heels of reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Washington state's lawmakers have turned their focus away from a ban on using a cellphone while driving to the apparently more dangerous activity of making it illegal for drivers to text on the open road.

Younger drivers are the target for House Bill 1214, which says: "A person operating a moving motor vehicle while reading, manually writing or sending a message on an electronic wireless device is guilty of a traffic infraction."

A similar bill by Rep. Dawn Morrell would prohibit teenagers with intermediate licenses from using cell phones to talk or text-message in the car.

"I realized how much attention it takes, and I found out they were doing it routinely while driving," she said. "If you can imagine reading and writing while operating a vehicle, you see the distraction is too dangerous," said Rep. Joyce McDonald.

There is still an ongoing push to ban drivers from using cellphones without hands-free devices. If caught tapping away while rolling along, the fine would be akin to a secondary traffic infraction, or $101 fine if the driver is caught while committing another offense, such as speeding.

Five other states have passed similar legislation requiring drivers to use hands-free devices. Other states include New York, New Jersey, California and Washington, D.C.

"People are getting more and more attuned to the distraction that they hold, so it probably has as good of a chance as ever to pass," said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler.

Matt Sundeen, who follows transportation issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan policy think tank, says the reason that similar bills have not passed is because of legislators' addiction to talking and driving.

"Everybody will agree that driving with a cell phone is distracting. The question is whether it is distracting enough to warrant legislation," Sundeen said. "Cell phones are not something like drunk driving, where there's really no value to it. They allow people to talk to their loved ones, keep in contact with friends or do business."
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