Our Northwest

Olympia fumbled common-sense safety bill

Monday, April 20, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

I’m upset that our state House of Representatives dropped the ball recently on a crucial driving-safety bill.
   Specifically, the House refused to advance legislation to outlaw drivers from using smartphones for social media and GPS, even at stoplights. The bill would have closed a loophole in our existing driving law that bans texting and hand-held phone calls.
   It’s in the news again because today’s Seattle Times quotes the CEO of the National Safety Council, Deborah Hersman, who was in town last week to draw attention to the danger of distracted driving. Hersman estimates 25% of crashes are linked to using electronic devices.
   Common sense suggests that distracted driving is so perilous, everyone should intuitively recognize it. Think how quickly your paved path can change – in the second or two that you steal a glance at your smartphone, the car ahead of you can brake, a driver can switch lanes, a dog can dart onto the road, a distracted driver can swerve out of his or her lane.
   Washington’s state Senate approved the proposed law, 35-14, in what reportedly was a bipartisan vote.
   The Times article notes that Republicans control the Senate, while Democrats control the House. I sure hope this common-sense life-saving law didn’t die in the House because of petty party lines.
   Hersman noted a National Safety Council poll that reminds me of what PEMCO has found in its own surveys of Northwest drivers – the mindset of “it’s not me, it’s the other guy.”
   “People think other people are bad at talking or texting while they drive,” Hersman told the Times. “But the problem is if you ask those same people, who support laws prohibiting that – if they have done it, if they’ve talked on the phone, if they’ve texted within the past two weeks or two months, they invariably reply that they have. They feel like somehow they are better at it, they are better drivers, or better at the myth of multi-tasking, which we know is not the case.”
   Hersman draws an interesting parallel between smartphones and smoking, noting that long after doctors said it’s dangerous, TV and movies continued to glamorize it. But at some point public opinion turned.
   “There absolutely is a path to success, and it’s about society reaching a tipping point where we say, ‘This isn’t acceptable anymore,’ she said.
   Washington’s distracted-driving bill should resurface in Olympia next year. I’m hopeful our lawmakers will get it right this time. I hope they vote to save lives.

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