British Columbia

Drivers to face text messaging fines in Washington

British Columbians planning a trip south to Washington should beware: drivers in the state could soon be fined for using cellphones to send text messages while behind the wheel.

ICBC says no similar ban sought for B.C.

British Columbians planning a trip south toWashington should beware: drivers in the state could soon be fined for using cellphones to send text messages while behind the wheel.

Washington will become yet another U.S. state to put legal restrictions on cellphone use while driving.The state follows the lead ofCalifornia, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., in implementing lawslimiting the use of cellphones while driving,according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Beginning in January, it will be against the law to send text messages while operating a car in Washington.

Sgt. Kristine O'Shannon, of the Washington State Patrol, said the new text message legislation aims to make roadways safer.

But for Washington drivers it doesn't stop there. Starting in July 2008, it will also be illegal to talk on a cellphone without a headset while driving.

"Well, [it's] one way we can make sure that our drivers are paying attention to exactly that — driving … not talking on the phone and not texting,'' O'Shannon said.

However, she said talking on a cellphone and text messaging while driving will only be regarded as a secondary violation.

That means that offenders cannot be pulled over unless they are committing another offence, such as speeding or driving without a seatbelt.

Police could then impose fines for both activities.

"If we see somebody on a cellphone but there's no other violations, we can't stop them," she said.

O'Shannon said it will take some time for people to get used to the new law, one that some people would like to see introduced in British Columbia as well.

ICBC not seeking B.C. ban

On Tuesday, ICBC said it is not convinced banning cellphone use while driving would make roads any safer.

Spokesman Doug McClelland said the corporation has studied other jurisdictions where cellphones are banned, and researchers discovered there was no reduction in the number of crashes.

"Some research has shown that cellphones [are] way down the list in terms of distractions," said McClelland.

"The most dangerous distractions is passengers in the back seat, or electronic equipment in the car. There are all kinds of distractions in the car that drivers face, and the challenge is not to pick one off the list and ban it, but to raise awareness with drivers that there are risks in taking your attention off the road."

McClelland said ICBC is pushing for more driver education programs rather than a law banning cellphones in cars.


  • This story originally suggested that the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia said earlier this year it was in favour of a law similar to that being implemented in Washington. ICBC did not say that.
    Sep 18, 2007 10:46 AM PT

With files from the Associated Press