Petition Seeks Rewrite of State’s New Distracted-Driving Law

Petitioners focus on the law’s impact on eating, drinking, and smoking while driving.

The state’s new law targeting distracted drivers sure is irritating folks.

What’s riled them is not so much the outright ban on use of any handheld cellphone or electronic device while behind the wheel, a violation that could result in a $136 ticket.

It’s the part where people could get pulled over for speeding, as an example, and slapped with an additional penalty if the officer noticed them munching on a burger or lighting a cigarette or drinking a cup of coffee in the course of their lead-footed offense.

A woman identified as Angela Cruze started an online petition July 21, two days before the law took effect, seeking a rewrite. Roughly 27,500 people had signed it by Wednesday morning with the tally climbing hourly.

“Drinking coffee to stay awake and not crash is needed at 4 a.m. for my animal emergency nursing job,” wrote a petition signer identified as Heather Encina, of Everett. “And even though I don’t smoke, they have the right to smoke in their own car, without children in there. These things do not cause accidents.”

The law is well-intentioned but goes too far, many argued. Some noted if a driver becomes dehydrated it puts their health and the safety of others on the road at risk.

“This is a classic example of the spirit of the law becoming misguided to where it shifts from keeping the people safe, to controlling people,” wrote a person identified online as Adiah Swenson, of Vancouver. “Not being able to eat, and especially drink, while driving is absurd and unreasonable.”

The law does not specifically say you cannot eat or drink while driving.

What it actually says in Section 3 is that it is an infraction to “drive dangerously distracted.” That’s defined as engaging in “any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of such motor vehicle on any highway.”

Eating and drinking qualify. Beautifying yourself does, too. Rifling through a stack of CDs or picking a video for your children to watch in the backseat might as well. Even trying to get your dog to sit in a seat and not your lap could be grounds for an infraction.

What’s critical to understand is this is a secondary offense. It can only be assessed if an officer pulls over a driver for committing another traffic offense such as speeding, erratic driving or talking on a handheld cellphone.

Once the petition gets 35,000 signatures it will be delivered to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, all members of the state Senate and Republican President Donald Trump.

A copy also should go to Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, as he is the lawmaker responsible for this particular provision.

Hayes, a sergeant with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, said electronic devices aren’t the only distraction for drivers and thus use of them shouldn’t be the only activities subject to penalties.

“A heck of a lot more people are crashing because they are reaching for a french fry or fiddling with the radio,” he said.

He opposed any new new restrictions until language he drafted on driving while “dangerously distracted” was amended into the final version.

Washington’s law might now be the nation’s broadest ban, Hayes said with pride. This will give law enforcement officers “more tools” to address distracted drivers, he said.

And more ways to punish them.

jcornfield@heraldnet.com

This story originally appeared in the Everett Herald.

More in News & Comment

Teguhjati Pras/Pixabay
Amazon Draws Heat for Facial Recognition Tool Used for Policing

A coalition of civil rights organizations accused the company of encouraging mass surveillance.

Dormant since 1999, the machinery at the John Henry Mine will soon resume operations if all goes as planned. Photo by Ray Still
Plans to Open King County Coal Mine Later This Year Move Forward

The Department of the Interior has granted a permit to resume mining at the Black Diamond location.

Some King County elected leaders want to spend $180 million on maintenance upkeep at Safeco Field in Seattle. Photo by HyunJae Park/Flickr
King County Leaders Want to Spend $180 Million on Safeco Field

But once councilmember thinks funding for affordable housing and the arts should come before subsidizing stadium maintenance.

King County Looks to Buy 65,000 Acres for Conservation

The proposed plan would protect forests, trails, shorelines, and farms.

About 80 people gathered on Tuesday afternoon in support of Maru Mora-Villalpando, who entered deportation proceedings earlier this year. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
A Seattle Battle of Deportation Vs. Freedom of Information

While facing deportation, Maru Mora-Villalpando has been denied public ICE documents that could show widespread targeting of immigrant rights organizers.

Most of the tenants at show cause hearings have fallen behind on rent, said Housing Justice Project Managing Attorney Edmund Witter. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
The Last Stop Before Homelessness

How the odds are stacked against low-income tenants in the County’s eviction court system.

This petroleum refinery in Anacortes is run by Shell, one of the defendants in the suit brought by King County. Photo by Walter Siegmund/Wikipedia Commons
Can King County Win Its Lawsuit Against Big Oil?

Legal experts think past lawsuits against the tobacco industry increase the odds for a favorable outcome.

Beth Knowles is the Mayoral Lead for Homelessness and Rough Sleeping at Greater Manchester Mayor’s Office. Photo by Candace Doyal
Beth Knowles Discusses the U.K. Tackling Homelessness Through Art

During her Seattle visit, the head of Manchester’s homelessness task force talked about creative solutions to the global problem.

Most Read