Washington state lawmaker looks to outlaw handheld cell phones while driving

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Washington state legislator Tracy Eide (D, Federal Way) wants to pass a bill making it illegal to drive a motor vehicle and have a cell phone in your hand. There are exceptions, such as reporting an accident or in an emergency, but under her bill drivers would be required to use a "hands-free" device with their cell phone or face a penalty of $100.

Several studies have found a link between cell phone use and accidents. A New England Journal of Medicine reported study found that driving while using a cell phone creates distractions similar to driving with a blood alcohol reading of 0.08%. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, approximately 700 accidents involving drivers using cell phones occurred in 2004.

"Where's your other hand? There's got to be two hands on the wheel. Signaling, people aren't signaling any more. You start thinking about the big picture, it gets kind of scary out there and people, it's the equivalent of driving while you're intoxicated," said Tracy Eide.

Cell phone companies are opposed to the bill, saying people can still use the radio and put make-up on while driving. "Certainly when my kids were little, haven't we all been guilty of turning around and going 'hey, knock it off.' Well, you're taking your eyes off the road," said a governmental affairs representative for Sprint.

New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia already ban holding a cell phone while driving; a "hands-free" cell phone is legal. Other states, such as Maryland, are considering other bans such as targeting youthful drivers on provisional licenses.