State Senator Apologizes for Joining a Zoom Hearing While Driving

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State Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, has apologized after she participated in a legislative video hearing Tuesday morning while she drove a car to Olympia.

Her attempt to multitask was "not in compliance with the law," she said.

The Legislature passed a distracted-driving law in 2017, following testimony by families of people killed in vehicle crashes. Washington state code forbids several behaviors, among them "watching video on a personal electronic device."

Saldaña, vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, appeared on TVW's livestream behind the wheel, with a virtual Capitol as background. She fielded a question about clean fuels.

"I'm driving my old vehicle right now, and a lot of Washingtonians have to drive farther if they're in rural communities, or if they're low income, they make do with their gas vehicle for longer and don't necessarily have the opportunity to buy a Tesla or a hydrogen Toyota ..." she said.

In January, she had suggested $2.5 billion be provided for clean-fuel subsidies and conversions.

Saldaña said she meant to disable the video and only use audio functions. She also wore lightweight ear buds; the law forbids earphones if they block outside sounds such as ambulances. And she didn't commit the illegal act of handling a device. The standard citation fine is $136 for a first offense.

"I have supported legislation about penalties for distracted driving, and like all drivers in Washington state, I must be subject and accountable to that law and all traffic laws," Saldaña said in a statement. "Accordingly, if I receive a citation for this driving infraction, I will pay the fine."

Hands-free phone calls remain legal in Washington, despite research that they impair a driver's perceptions and reaction time by consuming brain functions. "Hands free is not risk free," the National Safety Council says.

At any moment, about 9.4% of drivers use a cellphone in violation of the law, according to observations by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. The commission attributes 393 deaths between 2017 and 2019 to distracted driving.

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