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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Costs of distraction

I have discussed the woes of distracted driving many times here.  Several states have addressed the driver shortcoming through enforcement.  Washington passed the E-DUI law in 2017 to curb the growing influence of distraction by electronic device.

But the phenomenon of distracted drivers persists, and carries with it consequences beyond the cost of a potential ticket and fine.

According to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), drivers are three times more likely to be in a crash when talking on a cell phone.  After all, studies have shown that device distraction can render drivers as accident prone as if they were drunk.  Currently, per the agency, distracted driving is the cause of 30 percent of fatalities and 23 percent of serious injuries in crashes in the state of Washington.  And besides a hefty fine, having a distracted driving ticket on your record could increase your insurance premium.

It’s now Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is usually in April but was postponed to October this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a good month for it, since there is good news to report.  New data shows that traffic deaths in Washington state involving distracted driving have decreased since the state’s E-DUI law was enacted in July 2017.  According to the WTSC, traffic deaths involving distracted drivers in Washington decreased 25 percent in 2018 from 2017, and 33 less people died in 2019 compared to 2016 (the year before the E-DUI law passed).

Driver distraction — especially when involving cell phones — is dangerous and deadly, so seeing a decrease in fatal crashes after more than a year with the new distracted driving law in effect is a reason for hope.

There are countless sources of driver distraction.  Washington State’s distracted driving law placed tougher restrictions on cell phone use while behind the wheel and created new violations for other distractions while driving, such as eating, reading or grooming.

The law set substantial fines for those who get ticketed and allows those tickets to be reported to the violator’s driving record.  Insurers now report that a distracted driving infraction on your record could increase what you pay for auto insurance by as much as 20 percent.

Insurers will generally treat a ticket for E-DUI (driving under the influence of electronics) much like having a speeding ticket on the driver’s record — resulting in the loss of any existing “good driver” discounts and an increase in premiums.  But the potential rate increase could be much steeper if the infraction involves a crash.

All distractions are reasons for concern, but cell phone use while driving is the riskiest distraction for drivers.  According to the WTSC, talking on a cell phone increases crash risk by three times.  Texting  while driving increases crash risk by 23 times, and drivers talking on the phone, even hands-free, can miss up to 50 percent of what is going on in their driving environment.

As regularly discussed in this column, the best way to avoid wrecks and the accompanying insurance hikes is to pay attention to the task at hand when driving — stay ever-vigilant and avoid the lure of distraction.

Driving with precision is one of the most complicated and potentially dangerous tasks that we engage in and have control over.  Please give it the attention it deserves to sidestep the potential consequences of not doing so.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at