Statewide survey shows cellphone use greatest cause of distracted driving

  • Wednesday, February 15, 2017 4:37pm
  • News
Statewide survey shows cellphone use greatest cause of distracted driving

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) released the results of a first-ever statewide observational survey of distracted drivers.

The survey found that cellphone use is the most common type of distraction, with 71 percent of distracted drivers engaged with their phones while operating their vehicles, according to a Feb. 13 WTSC media release. Statewide, nearly 1 out of 10 drivers in Washington state are distracted while driving, representing a distraction rate of 9.2 percent. Fatalities from distracted driving increased by 32 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Washington.

“Our goal is to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roadways to zero by the year 2030; we call this Target Zero,” said Angie Ward, program manager at the WTSC. “With fatalities from distracted driving increasing, and with drivers engaging in the riskiest type of distracting behavior — cellphone — reducing distracted driving must become a higher priority.”

More than 22,300 vehicle drivers were observed in the WTSC survey, in 23 counties across the state. While cellphone use was the most frequent distraction, other distractions observed (29 percent) included behaviors such as eating, tuning a radio, or attending to pets or children.

Other research has shown that cellphone use has been found to increase the risk of crashes by three times. Entering text into a cellphone can increase crash risk by up to 23 times.

Cellphone use is particularly risky because it causes what experts refer to as “inattention blindness.” One study by AAA found that it can take a driver 27 seconds to refocus on the road after using a cellphone – in which time a car moving at 25 mph can travel the length of three football fields. Says Ward, “Research shows that cellphone use causes poor driving more than any other potential distraction. Choosing to use your cellphone while driving is one of the riskiest things you can do. Unfortunately, our study shows that too many drivers are putting themselves, their passengers and others at risk.”

Ward also pointed to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Study that showed while two-thirds of drivers support restrictions on cellphone use while driving, 70 percent of these same drivers admit to doing it themselves.

In addition to pending legislation to confront the issue of distracted driving, the issue is also being addressed by the WTSC through its Target Zero programs, and by state law enforcement agencies, who are working toward eliminating distracted driving behaviors through enforcement and education efforts, including a coordinated, statewide distracted driving patrol scheduled for April. The WTSC also promotes awareness of distracted driving dangers through high school education programs.

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