Sister of distracted driving victim applauds new, tougher bill: ‘It will be a cultural shift’

SEATTLE -- A new distracted driving bill is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

The bill is an attempt to catch up with technologies that for now drivers have been allowed to use behind the wheel.

Several Washington state families lobbied lawmakers to crack down on distracted drivers – and give law enforcement more teeth when they find drivers using their phones behind the wheel.

Gina Bagnariol-Benavides’ sister Jody died in 2016 after the driver behind her slammed into her car. Police say the people who caused the accident were trying to take a selfie at freeway speeds.

“She’s my driving force every single day and will continue to be,” said Bagnariol-Benavides. “She was taken way too soon -- and I don’t have words. I don’t have words to express the void that she left. She was my best friend.”

Washington currently outlaws texting on your phone while driving, but the new bill would also make it illegal to browse social media or stream movies.

“That’s not what a cellphone was ever intended to be, and the fact that it has those capabilities doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a privilege, it’s not a right,” said Bagnariol-Benavides.

Gina said it’s not just her generation that should put the phones down, but also the younger ones who have grown up with the internet at their fingertips.

“It will be a cultural shift and it won’t be just here.”

The data is striking. In 2015 alone, 171 people died in car crashes connected to distracted driving in our state, up 30% from the previous year.

The Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act passed in the Senate Wednesday night in Olympia.

The bill would allow drivers to do simple things like open a navigation app while a phone is mounted on the dash, but constantly using the phone would be illegal.

If the governor signs the bill into law, it won’t go into effect until 2019.