Hey, Idaho! Let’s steal Washington’s driving-under-the-influence-of-electronics law

During a speech in July, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee highlights the state’s new law prohibiting the use of nearly all phones and mobile devices while driving. At left is John Batiste, chief of the Washington State Patrol.
During a speech in July, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee highlights the state’s new law prohibiting the use of nearly all phones and mobile devices while driving. At left is John Batiste, chief of the Washington State Patrol. AP

For a dissenting view from one of our editorial board members, see below.

Our neighbors to the northwest are trying something that we can watch and learn from — and then take for our own use.

Washington state’s new law covering driving under the influence of electronics took effect July 23. Drivers face a $136 fine for a first offense — $234 for additional offenses within five years — if they are seen holding or using a handheld device or watching a video while driving.

The law permits drivers the “minimal use of a finger” to activate an app for a device in a cradle or built into the car — what one Washingtonian we know described as the “one-swipe rule.”

Will Washington’s new law work? Is it enough? Is it too much? We’re about to find out. And that’s good for Idaho, which took a good step in 2012 to ban texting while driving. But technology and human behavior have evolved, and our gadgets have proliferated. Idaho law needs to keep pace.

We don’t think Washington has it all figured out, but we like the experiment unfolding there. Doing nothing as the plague of distracted driving swells is not a good option.

According to The Seattle Times, 156 of that state’s 537 roadway deaths in 2016 were blamed on distractions of all kinds. In Idaho in 2014, more than one in five fatalities involved a distracted driver, although the Idaho data aren’t broken down by distraction. Cellphone use and abuse is notoriously hard to track or to get people to be honest about. But we do know this: After seeing serious crashes and fatalities decrease per miles traveled in Idaho from 2010 to 2014, both are now ticking up.

So, Idaho legislators, let’s do this when you convene in 2018: Hold a hearing. Invite Washington’s state patrol and other experts to come tell us how it’s going. Ask Idaho’s best state police and Department of Transportation brains to weigh in with their expertise and recommendations. Let’s get the best Idaho data and look at Idaho tweaks. Then ask citizens.

Is the Washington approach best? Should Idaho instead make electronics an aggravating factor — your penalty multiplies if you are involved in an accident or other offense while driving under the influence of electronics? Is one swipe enough? Too much?

Should we keep Idaho’s existing exemption for texting at a stoplight? We think it’s a reasonable provision — and one that Washington’s new law doesn’t permit.

Each of us can quibble and suggest how we’d like to see the law shaped. So let’s do that. And then let’s put the toughest, smartest bill we can into law.

It’s well established that our right to absolute freedom ends at the steering wheel. And no driver is free to be careless with the lives of other people on the road.

Yet we drivers don’t recognize how our own habits put others at risk. If you have any doubt, sit at any parking lot exit and watch drivers zip past with phones glued to ears or fingers tapping away. Add the phone to the already busy, distracted driving world in which we eat, drink, brush hair, apply makeup or change clothes, and we’re multiplying our chances for bad outcomes.

One of these days, technology will be so good and so smooth that many of these issues will be moot. Your car will call home, order dinner, turn on Netflix and schedule your massage. Fumbling with a “smart” phone will be a quaint memory, like setting the stylus on the phonograph or getting up to change the TV channel.

But that’s not today. We need to make setting the phone aside as common and as accepted as fastening our seat belts or buckling the kids into the car seats. To do that, let’s crib from Washington state.

Unsigned editorials represent the opinion of the Statesman editorial board.

Editorial board dissent

Talk about a slippery slope: You can’t legislate away distracted driving

I closely follow the happenings in my home state, but the absurdity of Washington’s far-reaching legislative approach to the distracted driving issue is dumbfounding to me.

Since reading up on this issue, I’ve taken special note of what distracts me while driving, and two of my main distractions are not addressed: dancing to awesome tunes and balking at strange behavior in the park. My point is that humans are given to distraction, and legislating down to the finger swipe is overreaching and restrictive to individual freedoms without accomplishing the underlying goal of curtailing distracted driving.

In terms of the slippery slope argument, Washington is on a 36-degree incline and in the process of applying a second coat of WD-40.

It is more effective and very possible to influence behavior without excessive legislation. Just look at the decline of cigarette use over the past 50 years. This was accomplished through a combination of incentives and strategic penalties in various areas of popular culture, not through outlawing tobacco.

Is distracted driving a problem? Yes. Does the solution rest in more legislation? In my opinion, emphatically no.

Kelly Parker is a member of the Statesman editorial board.