As Washington state legislators consider strengthening cell-phone and texting-related laws, a recent poll by PEMCO Insurance reveals that the number of Washingtonians who admit to illegally using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving has more than doubled in the past 20 months, from 17 percent to 41 percent. The poll also reveals a more-alarming trend involving the illegal practice of texting while driving, with usage increasing from 3 percent of Washington drivers just 20 months ago to 22 percent in the most recent poll.
“As cell-phone use rises, so does our concern,” said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesman. “We’ve been tracking drivers’ cell-phone use since 2004, and the trend shows drivers are talking and texting more and more. We’re concerned about safety on our roads. Any distractions while driving put motorists at risk.”
Though a growing number of drivers admit to using hand-held devices while driving, the poll reveals parallel data indicating that an increasing number of respondents report using hands-free devices, as well — 17 percent in 2007 versus 43 percent in 2009.
The survey also looked at who, among respondents, engages in certain specific distracting behaviors involving an electronic device. The poll found that drivers under the age of 55 who also have teenage children at home are among the most frequent violators.
More than 45 percent of the respondents who have Internet access from their phone admit they read or post to social networking sites while driving at least three times a month, and 21 percent of respondents read or post to a site six or more times per month.
Respondents report that they use their hand-held devices for driving-related purposes, though less frequently. Twenty-one percent of those who own a GPS device say they use it while driving more than six times a month. One in 10 respondents with a Web-enabled phone said four or more times per month, they retrieve traffic updates and learn road conditions from their phone while driving. Ten percent of drivers with a mobile phone also use their phone while driving to report someone violating the law at least once a month.
Currently, using a cell phone without a hands-free device and texting while driving are secondary offenses, meaning law enforcement cannot stop violators just for those violations. A bill being considered by lawmakers in Olympia, Wash., would elevate those violations to a primary offense.
To view a summary of the poll results, visit www.pemco.com/poll.
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