State may update distracted driving laws
LACEY, Wash. -- In the four years since her daughter died, Diana Jones's home has turned into a permanent memorial. Pictures, quilts and notes are scattered on the walls. Jones herself wears two bracelets in honor of her daughter, Ashley.
Ashley was 22 when she died February 18, 2011. She was driving on Highway 12 near Rochester when her car veered into oncoming traffic and a large truck.
She had been texting at the time, a fact that means Jones's home is a stark reminder of what distracted driving can do.
"She did it all the time," Jones said of her daughter. "You never think it will happen."
Since Ashley's death, Jones and her other daughter have spent time speaking about the dangers of distracted driving. But even she realizes more needs to be done.
"A $125 fine? Is that going to stop you from doing that?" she asked rhetorically. "A death stopped us."
A recent University of Washington study found the problem of distracted driving is not going away, despite Washington being among the first states to adopt policies against the practice.
"To some degree, we're a little farther behind," said Dr. Beth Ebel, who has led studies on distracted driving. "Our current law talks about a ban on texting. But it doesn't say much about posting to Facebook or checking your stock trades."
Dr. Ebel said about one-quarter of fatal accidents in Washington have distraction involved, at any time one-in-10 drivers are on a phone and about two-thirds of drivers admit they text and drive.
"People are using their phone for 100 other things," she said. "All great, but not when you're driving."
Dr. Ebel and the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission are pushing lawmakers to increase penalties add restrictions to what drivers can do with their phone on the road. Essentially, nothing.
"I think it's important to update the law," said Dr. Ebel.
The commission recommends Washington bring its laws in line with federal guidelines, which have stiffer regulations and also open the state up to more highway funding.