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Drivers want changes in cell phone laws

May 2, 2005

SEATTLE – According to PEMCO Insurance's 2005 Northwest Poll, four out of five Washington drivers believe that talking on cell phones while driving should be legal only with hands-free devices, or made illegal altogether. But changes to state law won't likely happen soon.

A bill that would require the use of a hands-free device while driving failed to pass through the state legislature for the fifth year in a row.

Similar bills already have passed in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., limiting cell phone usage to hands-free devices while driving.

"Although studies on the effectiveness of hands-free cell phones are still inconclusive, most people intuitively understand that hand-held phones are dangerous," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO Insurance spokesperson. "You need both hands to control a vehicle. How often have you seen someone who's holding a phone to their ear change lanes without signaling?"

PEMCO continues to recommend that you pull over before making or taking a call if you must use a cell phone while driving. Alternatively, use a hands-free device to reduce distraction.

Productivity outweighs driver safety
Fifty-two percent of Washington state drivers admitted to talking on their cell phones while driving. Of those, nearly three-fourths said they do so because changing situations require them to learn where to drive to next, while 18 percent said they use their cell phones to be productive during wasted drive time.

PEMCO learned that 19 percent - about one in five - of Washington drivers "often" or "sometimes" talk on cell phones while driving. The poll also found that the younger the driver, the more likely he or she would use a cell phone while driving, and do so to be productive.

Statewide, males are more likely to use a cell phone while driving as a way to be productive (22 percent) than female drivers (12 percent). Regardless of gender, people in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties are more likely to use a cell phone while driving as a way to be productive (22 percent) than the rest of the state (12 percent).

"A lot has been said about cell phones simply being an inevitable result of our faster-paced world," said Osterberg. "PEMCO advises people to trust their gut. If you're driving while on the phone and feel yourself getting distracted, hang up or pull over. Don't take the risk."

Anyone who wants to compare his or her answers to the official results of the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll can do so online by visiting poll.pemco.com.

"PEMCO believes that making people aware of driving distractions like cell phones is the first step toward encouraging more responsible driving behavior," said Osterberg. "Rewarding responsibility is what we're all about."

One distracted driving bill did pass through the legislature this session. Senate bill 5161 will require state patrol officers to report when any driver involved in an accident was distracted at the time by a cell phone, other electronic device (including but not limited to PDAs, laptops, etc.), an audio or video-entertainment device, or by eating, drinking, smoking, reading, writing, children, and any other internal or external distractions.

Sen. Tracey J. Eide, D-Federal Way, sponsored the hands-free cell phone bill and succeeded in passing it through the Senate. However, it later died in the House of Representatives.

"People are really tired of getting on the road and seeing people talking on a phone and not watching the road," said Sen. Eide.

About the poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned the independent, statewide phone survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about cell-phone use and other issues.

Informa Research Services Inc. of Seattle conducted the poll. The sample size, 600 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study was conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Washington state residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the state and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.

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