SB 5656 is intended to bring WA State’s distracted driving laws into compliance with the requirements necessary to be eligible for federal funds through the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, funds that have been set aside to combat the emerging problem of distracted driving. In general, SB 5656 updates our current laws by changing the prohibition of using a personal wireless communications device to send, read, or write a text message while operating a motor vehicle, to prohibiting a person operating a motor vehicle (even when not moving) from reading or manually entering data, including but not limited to, short message services, texting, e-mailing, instant messaging, or engaging in any other form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication. A person engaging in these activities would be guilty of a traffic infraction.
Additionally, SB 5656 prohibits the holder of an intermediate license or driver’s instruction permit from using a personal wireless device in any manner while operating a motor vehicle.
Exceptions are delineated, such as if the driver is contacting emergency services, and for emergency personnel. Further, the term operating a motor vehicle is defined: Includes the operation of a motor vehicle while it is moving and while it is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic light, or a stop sign, and does not include when the vehicle has pulled over to the side of, or off, the roadway and has stopped in a location where it can safely remain stationary; as is the definition of personal wireless communications device.
SB 5656 would also require that questions regarding distracted driving be incorporated into the driver’s test.
Transportation Committee Amendment: The amendment in Committee modifies the bill by allowing a driver to use a device to engage in communication that does not require the use of either hand, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function.
Senate Floor Amendment: The floor amendment does the following: Prohibits the sharing of information about a first violation of the distracted driving law with insurance companies and employers, except in the case of a commercial driver's license holder.