New research on Washington state drivers has found that too many of us are not making good decisions with smart phone use while behind the wheel.
Researchers from the University of Washington examined the driving habits of citizens in six of the state’s counties: King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, Whatcom and Yakima Counties. The first study of its kind in Washington found that over eight percent of drivers use electronic devices while driving. Forty-five percent of those people were seen texting.
While eight percent seems like an extremely low number, it’s important to stress the methods of the study. Their findings weren’t about finding how many people drive distracted ever in their life, but those who were doing so at that moment in the random intersections of the study.
The study examined 7,800 drivers, recording various distracted driving behaviors. The most common source of distraction was handheld devices. Of the 3.4 percent who were talking on a handheld phone, half were holding it around the steering wheel.
“These findings suggest that distracted driving is more common than we thought and that texting has become a major cause of distraction,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, principal investigator with UW Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. “Most people support laws restricting texting and cell phone use in vehicles, yet some choose to engage in behaviors that put everyone on the road at risk. These traumatic injuries are entirely preventable.”
Road safety is an important public health issue for obvious reasons, not the least of which is that motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans under 35 years old.
Since 2010, Washington has had a primary enforcement law for handheld mobile devices and text messaging, imposing fines of $124.
The danger lies in the average person’s misconception that they can safely text or talk and drive, lulling them into a false sense of security. However, some studies have found that texting while driving increases the likelihood of an accident 23 fold. That’s comparable to driving drunk, with a blood alcohol level of 0.19.
“Otherwise responsible drivers who talk or text have caused collisions that kill or seriously injure others. These drivers are criminally prosecuted, just like other impaired drivers,” said Amy Freedheim, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
The increasing number of distracted driving accidents is prompting law enforcement officials to find ways to effectively curb those activities. This study is just the beginning of broader research on the impact of enforcing laws against distracted driving.
Also read: Where Are The Worst Drivers?