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PEMCO Poll: Hand-held cell-phone usage continues to rise

March 2, 2010

SEATTLE – 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 spokesperson.  “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, PEMCO’s 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.

PEMCO also looked at who, among respondents, engages in certain specific distracting behaviors involving an electronic device. The poll found that drivers under age 55 who also have teenage children at home are among the most frequent violators.

The poll also shows that 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 more than six times a month while driving. 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. 

“As Olympia deliberates enforcing stricter cell-phone laws, we’ll continue to track Washington drivers’ attitudes and behaviors toward existing and potential laws,” Osterberg said. 

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 would elevate those violations to a primary offense.

To learn more about PEMCO’s poll and to view a summary of the results, visit www.pemco.com/poll.  The public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare to those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in December 2009. 

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll

PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 604 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 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 +/- 4.1 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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