Survey: Washington Cell Phone Law Falls Short

June 27, 2008

While Washington drivers agree that the steady rise in cell phone usage while behind the wheel calls for changes to state law, most think the impending July 1, 2008, change making it illegal to use a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving doesn’t go far enough, according to a PEMCO Insurance poll of Washington drivers.

Of those polled, a majority (60 percent) support making cell phone-usage violations a primary offense, allowing law enforcement to cite violators solely for text-messaging or talking on a cell phone while driving. However, the approved law is a secondary offense, which requires motorists be in violation of a primary offense before they can be cited for using a cell phone while driving.

The poll demonstrates drivers’ concern for regulating the use of a cell phone while driving, PEMCO said. In 2005, the poll reported that four out of five Washington drivers believed that talking on cell phones while driving should be legal only with hands-free devices, or made illegal altogether.

“These trends have held steady for the past three years,” said PEMCO spokesman Jon Osterberg. “Last year when we asked drivers statewide what they thought about the law, two out of three told us that talking on a cell phone while driving should be a primary offense. People understand that holding a cell phone while driving is distracting, and they’re letting us know more should be done to regulate it.”

An even larger majority — 73 percent — expressed that text-messaging behind the wheel, which became illegal as a secondary offense on Jan. 1, 2008, should also be cited as a primary offense.

However, while drivers want more-stringent enforcement of technology-usage laws, those same drivers admit to relying more on cell phones while on the road, according to survey results. This year, the percentage of those who already use hands-free devices rose from 17 to 21 percent, while an even greater number — 28 percent — reported using a hand-held device while driving.

Despite these increases, drivers maintain that their biggest safety concern while driving relates to cell phone usage. Two in three respondents expressed that texting and talking on a cell phone while driving contributes significantly more to accidents and problems on Washington roadways — even more so than speeding and driving while fatigued.

“There’s no question that talking on a cell phone while driving keeps us from giving our full attention to the road. The good news is, Washington drivers recognize the risks and want stronger laws despite our increased dependence on technology,” Osterberg said.

Perhaps not surprising, electronic-device usage while driving is particularly high among younger drivers. Younger drivers do, however, indicate greater intent (35 percent versus 29 percent overall) to purchase a hands-free device for use with their mobile phone.

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Source: PEMCO

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