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Texting-while-driving doubles in 18 months among Washington drivers

August 25, 2009

SEATTLE, WA A poll by PEMCO Insurance reveals that the practice of reading and sending text messages while driving has more than doubled in the past 18 months, even while an increasing number of drivers believe the activity is unsafe.

The poll, taken in June 2009, shows that 18 percent of Washington drivers who use electronic devices admit to reading or sending text messages while driving, even though University of Utah research suggests such behavior increases the likelihood of accidents eight-fold. Only 6 percent of respondents using electronic devices admitted to texting behind the wheel in February 2008.

“We’re concerned about this trend, especially since many young drivers are part of a generation that uses texting so heavily,” said PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg. “The data suggests that as this behavior becomes more common, we’re likely to see more accidents caused by distracted driving.”

The poll also showed that while more drivers are tapping messages on cell phones than before, a higher percentage of Washington drivers think the behavior is dangerous.

PEMCO found that 45 percent of those polled are more concerned with the driving distractions caused by text messaging than other distractions like talking on a cell phone, speeding, or driving while tired – which is up significantly from the 32 percent of drivers who reported their concern for texting in 2008.    

“It’s peculiar that while more drivers think texting is dangerous, more drivers are willing to endanger themselves and those around them by tapping out a message,” Osterberg said.

The poll also showed that a significant majority of Washington drivers want the laws surrounding texting to be strengthened. Currently, Washington classifies cell-phone related violations as secondary offenses, which means the driver must be committing a primary violation like speeding to be cited for texting or talking without a hands-free device.

However, PEMCO’s June 2009 data shows that 70 percent of drivers believe the text-messaging law should be changed from a secondary to a primary offense.  Similarly in 2008, 73 percent of drivers agreed texting should be a primary offense. 

Surprisingly, when it comes to talking and driving, the poll data suggested an increased acceptance for Washington’s hands-free cell phone law as a secondary offense.  In 2009, 58 percent support the law as a primary offense, which is down from 60 percent in 2008 and 65 percent in 2007. 

“Even though Washington drivers appear to be more accepting of using hand-held cell phones behind the wheel, there’s no question that talking while driving is a distraction,” Osterberg said.

This latest PEMCO poll further shows drivers are unclear whether talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving is a primary or secondary offense, with 50 percent incorrectly reporting it as a primary offense. 

Overall, 94 percent of respondents do know that using a cell phone behind the wheel is against the law, with a majority reporting that it should only be legal to use a cell phone if using a hands-free device. 

Visit www.pemco.com/poll to view a summary of the results collected by this poll.  Visitors to the site may participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare with those collected by an independent organization earlier this year. 

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, 601 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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