Washington’s Drivers Distracted By Texting (And Probably Facebook and Twitter Too)

In news that’s making the rounds today, a first-of-its-kind study in Washington has determined that roughly half of the state’s distracted drivers are texting. Led by Dr. Beth Ebel, principal investigator with University of Washington Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and associate professor of pediatrics at the UW, the newly released data found that “more than 8 percent of drivers were engaged in the use of devices behind the wheel,” and “nearly half (45 percent) were observed texting.”

That’s no reason for LOLing.

Randomly observing 7,800 drivers at controlled intersections in six Washington counties - King, Snohomish, Pierce, Spokane, Yakima and Whatcom - the study, which was a first for our state, notes that the findings were “higher than previously estimated.” That said, for anyone whose actually been on Washington’s major roadways the idea that only 8 percent of drivers are using cell phones probably seems low.

Still, the study’s results were more than enough for concern according to Ebel.

“These findings suggest that distracted driving is more common than we thought and that texting has become a major cause of distraction,” Ebel says in a press announcing the study’s results. “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.”

The release notes that “prior studies show texting while driving increases crash risk by 23 times, similar to driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.19.”

Obviously, any type of cell phone use by drivers carries the risk of distraction; any way you look at it, that’s no laughing matter. But it’s worth noting that while headlines surrounding this study will surely focus on texting, Ebel admits there’s a possibility some observed Washington drivers were doing things like posting to Facebook or checking Twitter - which is just as dumb, and just as distracting.

Ebel says her study followed the same methodology as a 2011 study by the National Highway Safety Administration.

“Most of these individuals were likely texting, but as you might guess, some people may have been posting to Facebook, etc,” Ebel tells Seattle Weekly via email. “Of note, we found 3.7% of drivers were texting/manipulating a handheld device,” she continues, presenting a significant increase from the 2011 NHTSA study that found 1.3% of drivers texting or manipulating a handheld device.

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