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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Bill would expand rules on driving, cellphone use

Chad Sokol Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA – Drivers can’t text or make phone calls on Washington roads, but state law doesn’t say anything about checking email, browsing Facebook or taking selfies.

Lawmakers didn’t include those activities when creating the restrictions in 2007, just before smartphone apps exploded in popularity. The law took effect in June 2008, and Apple introduced the App Store a month later.

“Our policy has not kept up with technology,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, the prime sponsor of a bill to expand cellphone driving restrictions.

Senate Bill 5656 would bar drivers from sending or receiving any information without a hands-free device. It got a hearing Monday before the Senate Transportation Committee.

Current law says drivers can’t hold phones to their ears. The bill would prohibit them from holding phones at all – even if it is set to “speaker phone.”

Breaking the law could result in a ticket of up to $209, and second-time offenders could pay double that. Half of the ticket money would go into the state’s Highway Safety Fund. Infractions for cellphone use would appear on driving records, unlike today.

The bill is requested by the state Department of Transportation. It would qualify Washington for federal money under a nationwide series of laws aimed at preventing distracted driving.

Rivers, R-La Center, said updating the restrictions could easily save lives. Her bill warns that distracted driving is one of the top-three causes of fatal collisions involving teens.

The bill was supported by AAA insurance, the Washington State Patrol and AT&T Wireless. Nathan Fitzgerald, who testified for General Motors, said it should exempt communication technology built into vehicles, like GM’s OnStar.

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