Bill targets drivers ‘under influence of electronics’

Families of people killed by distracted drivers ask lawmakers to pass SB 5289

Jody Bagnariol and Elizabeth Rudolph were killed when a distracted driver crashed into them in summer 2016. (WSP)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (KOIN) — Theresa Fawcett’s sister, Jody Bagnariol, was killed when a distracted driver crashed into her on I-5 near Chehalis last summer.

“They didn’t for one second think about anybody but themselves,” Fawcett told KOIN 6 News.

The heartbroken sister and other victims of distracted driving made emotional pleas to Washington lawmakers Wednesday, asking them to pass a bill that would toughen laws against using electronics while driving.

Theresa Fawcett holds a photo of her sister, Jody Bagnariol, who was killed by a distracted driver, March 1, 2017. (KOIN)
Theresa Fawcett holds a photo of her sister, Jody Bagnariol, who was killed by a distracted driver, March 1, 2017. (KOIN)

Senate Bill 5289 would make it illegal to hold any hand-held device while driving and ensure offenders receive harsher penalties.

“I’m using my anger to fuel this action,” Fawcett said.

Last summer, Bagnariol and friend Elizabeth Rudolph were stopped in a traffic jam along I-5 when a car slammed into them from behind going 76 mph, Fawcett said.

Their car was completely crushed on both ends from the impact.

Fawcett said the driver who crashed into her sister’s car later told police her husband was taking a picture at the time, causing her to become distracted.

Jody Bagnariol and Elizabeth Rudolph were killed when a distracted driver crashed into them on I-5 in summer 2016. (Theresa Fawcett)
Jody Bagnariol and Elizabeth Rudolph were killed when a distracted driver crashed into them on I-5 in summer 2016. (Theresa Fawcett)

“They walked away scot-free,” Fawcett said. “They killed 2 people by taking a selfie.”

Sen. Ann Rivers (R-WA) is behind Senate Bill 5289. In addition to banning the use of hand-held electronics behind the wheel, the bill also increases the fine for distracted driving and makes it a violation reportable to courts and insurance companies.

Sen. Ann Rivers is behind Senate Bill 5289 that would toughen penalties for distracted drivers, March 1, 2017. (KOIN)
Sen. Ann Rivers is behind Senate Bill 5289 that would toughen penalties for distracted drivers, March 1, 2017. (KOIN)

By increasing the penalties of distracted driving, Rivers said she hopes to change the culture of safety around cellphones, just as it was done for seatbelts.

“You can’t be looking at Facebook or tweeting or doing Snapchat or any of the other things that people can do now that didn’t even exist when our first cellphone law was created,” Rivers said. “The new law is you cannot touch your phone.”

In Washington, distracted driving deaths jumped from 130 in 2014 to 171 in 2015. Distracted driving caused 3,477 deaths in the U.S. in 2015, a 9% increase from 2014.

“To be under the influence of an electronic device, they’re playing Russian roulette, but they’re playing it with someone else’s life,” Rivers said.

Fawcett’s family is now working with lawmakers like Rivers to help pass the bill. While Fawcett can’t get her sister back, she said she hopes to save others moving forward.

“If it changes one other person, saving one more life, it’s worth it,” she said.

Senate Bill 5289’s counterpart, House Bill 1371, is making its way through the House.