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Washington drivers put the pedal to ... the brake?

Drivers report an eight percent decrease in the frequency with which they speed since 2005

June 27, 2007

SEATTLE – According to data from the latest PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll, Washington drivers who earn a household income of more than $75,000 are more likely than their counterparts to speed and talk on a cell phone.

"The poll data indicates there is a correlation between income and driving behavior," said PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg. "Wealthy drivers are taking more safety risks when driving compared to their counterparts."

The poll results revealed that drivers with higher incomes say not only do they speed, but they also think talking on a cell phone while driving should be legal regardless of whether or not a hands-free device is used.

Earlier this year, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a law that makes it illegal, as a secondary offense, for Washington drivers to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device. The law will go into effect in 2008. Some proponents say the law does not go far enough to protect drivers.

The PEMCO poll asked drivers how often they find themselves driving faster than the posted speed limit. In 2005, 20 percent of drivers reported speeding 'often' compared to only 12 percent in 2007.

"While some drivers go faster than others, the general consensus was that people say they're less likely to speed compared to our results from 2005," said Osterberg.

Poll data revealed drivers who are more likely than their counterparts to speed are male, under 55 years old, have at least one child at home, and earn at least $75,000 in household income.

Data from the poll also showed drivers least likely to speed are females over the age of 55 who have no children and earn a household income of under $75,000.

"Interestingly, single drivers without children are least likely to speed," said Osterberg. "You might expect that drivers with children would take it easy on the roads and obey the speed limit, helping to ensure they'll be around to raise their kids."

Similar to the 2005 data, PEMCO's poll reveals that about half of Washington drivers admit to speeding. Of those who break the law, about three-quarters say they do so to keep up with the flow of traffic.

"We've seen changes in Washington state in the past two years that might contribute to drivers slowing down," said Osterberg. "Higher gas prices, growing roadway congestion, and increased drivers education and enforcement programs could all play a role."

In 2005, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline in Washington state was $2.43 per gallon. Today, the average price has gone up to $3.37, according to www.WashingtonGasPrices.com.

"With the cost of gas rising so sharply over such a short period of time, it's a good reason to drive slower and improve your miles per gallon," said Osterberg.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the faster one drives, the more fuel is used. To reach optimal fuel efficiency, drivers must maintain a speed of 55 mph. Once acceleration exceeds 55 mph, fuel efficiency diminishes.

"While some drivers say they speed to save time, it pays to slow down," said Osterberg.

A growing population in and around Washington's urban areas means more cars and more drivers on the road. Based on increased traffic congestion, and coupled with high gas prices, drivers may be opting to – or forced to – slow down.

"Opportunity breeds temptation, and if drivers don't have either, they simply can't speed," said Osterberg.

Seattle city officials project at least 1.2 million additional people living and working in the Puget Sound region by 2030.

Since 2005, the state launched new initiatives to get drivers to slow down. In 2005, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission started a pilot program called Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT), which is still in effect today. The program aims to increase awareness and reduce collisions between commuter cars and large commercial vehicles.

According to 2006 data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, speeding violations were reduced significantly at target intervention sites, between 23 percent and 46 percent.

"Speeding is a big factor contributing to traffic crashes," said Osterberg. "Washington averages 600 traffic-related deaths per year. About 77 percent of those traffic fatalities involve impairment or speed."

Drivers can take the survey and compare his or her answers to the official results of the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll at poll.pemco.com.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned the statewide phone survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about driving, cell phone use, and other safety issues. The poll was conducted by FBK Research of Seattle. The sample size was 600 respondents.

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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