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Washington Ushers in New Era of DUI's: Driving Under the Influence of Electronics

Posted by Steve Karimi | Feb 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

A pair of Washington lawmakers have teamed up to eliminate the burgeoning problem of device use behind the wheel. While texting and driving laws have been on the books in Washington for almost a decade, they haven't kept pace with the myriad ways phones now harness a driver's attention. Current laws do not prohibit posting to Snapchat or checking Facebook while driving. This prevents law enforcement from issuing citations to those who do so. No legal sanctions mean no penalties, and no penalties mean no deterrent.

In response, lawmakers Jessyn Farrell and Ann Rivers have introduced sweeping legislation that would place electronic device use on the same plain as intoxication, at least in verbiage. The pair entitled the bill the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act. To rhetorically position device usage in the same league as alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs is a bold move but does show how serious legislators are in their intent to eradicate this detriment to public safety. Despite its heavy-handed approach, House Bill 1371/Senate Bill 5289 benefits from bipartisan support.

So is it fair game to allege electronic use is as dangerous as intoxication on the road? The statistics seem to say so. Despite the texting/calling laws of 2008, deaths caused by distracted driving increased by 32 percent between 2013 and 2015. Statistics suggest the laws put in place in 2008 simply cannot service a 2017 world, despite a mere 9 years between them. While it may be the nature of laws to eventually reach obsolescence, the rate at which laws are needing figurative 'tune ups and oil changes' is speeding up. Technological advancement and the curveballs it throws public safety now seem to rapidly outpace legislative turnover. Laws put in place to regulate these curveballs now need constant legal refurbishing. The DUIE Act is indicative of that.

Sending, reading and writing text messages while operating a moving vehicle is illegal, nevertheless, drivers cannot seem to keep hands off their devices. The perpetuated use of Snapchat and Facebook while driving might owe to a perception that they are less dangerous on the road, compared to the involved task of writing text messages. Awareness campaigns honed in on the dangers of texting and driving and legislation backing them soon followed. The next frontier will be social media and app usage while driving, furthering efforts to harmonize 21st technology and public safety.

The specific measures of this new law? It would outright ban drivers from using electronic devices with more than one finger while operating a vehicle. This, intentionally, makes it impossible to hold a phone while driving, while permitting people like Uber drivers to keep using dashboard-mounted devices. Photo taking, song changing, social media scrolling under the proposed law would be eradicated. This is a small price to pay for exponentially safer streets, in the eyes of lawmakers. The bill would also increase fines for distracted driving offenders, and double them for repeat offenders. Citations for distracted driving would go on the driver's record and be reported to insurance companies.

Reps Farrell and Rivers jointly contend that a law tightening up sanctions against distracted driving is timely, if not overdue. If adopted in Washington and other states after it, the measure would reign in a whole new era of DUIs. Could it really be that electronics have reached a status as 'intoxicating' as alcohol?

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.

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