Cities and states across the country have long been dealing with the nationwide epidemic of distracted driving, but a recent surge of distracted drivers has prompted Washington state's Traffic Safety Commission to beef up enforcement patrols in Clark County this month - which also happens to be "Distracted Driving Awareness Month."
Washington law enforcement agencies strengthening their enforcement patrols include the police departments in Vancouver, Battle Ground, and Camas. The Washington State Patrol and Clark County Sheriff's Office are also participating in the campaign, which aims to address the growing problem of distraction on our state roads and highways.
What do the numbers say?
On a national level, car accidents caused by distracted drivers resulted in 3,142 fatalities in 2019, an increase of 10% over 2018. Data from the NHTSA also reveals that distracted drivers were involved in about 9% of all fatal crashes in 2019, and from 2012-2019, over 26,000 deaths were attributed to collisions involving distracted drivers.
On a local level, the numbers aren't much better. According to the Traffic Safety Commission's 2020 Distracted Driving Observation Survey:
- The distracted driver rate jumped from 6.8% in 2019 to 9.4% in 2020.
- On city streets, approximately 1 out of 5 drivers engaged in distracted driving behavior - up from 1 out of every 10 drivers the year before.
- On county roads, driver distraction doubled.
Additional data from the state Traffic Safety Commission shows:
- Distracted driving causes 30% of crash fatalities in Washington state
- 23% of serious crashes in Washington state are caused by distracted driving
- When talking on a phone, drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a crash
- 70% of distracted drivers were observed using their cellphones
What is the distracted driving law in Washington state?
Whether it's a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or portable gaming system, drivers are prohibited from using handheld electronic devices while driving.
The law states that drivers are specifically barred from using handheld electronic devices:
- When stopped at a traffic light or in traffic
- To type messages or access information
- To watch videos or use cameras (e.g., taking selfies or video clips to post on social media)
Exceptions to the statute include:
- Using the phone's hands-free mode, or Bluetooth wireless technology, so long as it can be initiated by a single touch or swipe without holding the device
- When parked or out of the flow of traffic
- When programming a GPS or starting music before driving
- When contacting emergency services (e.g., calling 911)
If you are ticketed for distracted driving (E-DUI) in Washington state, you will face a $136 fine for the first offense and $234 fines for repeated offenses. On top of that, the violations will be reported to your insurance company, which may cause your insurance premium to go up.
Lastly, the state's Dangerously Distracted secondary law authorizes law enforcement officials to hand down an additional $99 citation to those who are stopped for another traffic violation due to distraction. In other words, a police officer can give you a ticket if you're driving while distracted no matter what the distraction is.
Follow these pointers to avoid distracted driving
According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, you can follow these tips to stay focused while you're driving:
- Put your phone in airplane mode, use the "do not disturb" function, or simply turn the device off.
- So you won't be tempted to use your phone, put it somewhere in your car that's not easily within reach such as the glove box, trunk, backseat, or with a passenger.
- Give yourself extra time before you start driving. By planning ahead, you can avoid trying to multi-task while you drive. If you schedule 10 minutes before you leave to take care of things like eating, programming a GPS, setting up music, or making a phone call, you can prevent these distractions while driving.
- On longer drives, take a break every 2-3 hours to use your phone, stretch, eat a snack, or change your playlist.
For passengers, the Traffic Safety Commission says don't be afraid to speak up if you're riding with a distracted driver. While it may feel uncomfortable, politely ask the driver to stop what they're doing and stay focused on the road.
Count on Colin Scott when you've been injured in an accident
At The Scott Law Firm, PLLC, founding attorney Colin Scott is respected for his dedication to clients and passion for justice. As a former deputy prosecutor for the State of Washington, Colin saw firsthand how so many good people were wronged by others. Today, Colin is driven to help those people seek justice.
If you were injured in a car accident caused by someone who was texting while driving or was otherwise distracted, Colin can aggressively advocate for your best interests and fight for the compensation you're entitled to.
Contact us today for a free consultation. Our office is located in Vancouver, WA and we proudly serve clients throughout southwest Washington state.