OLYMPIA, WA — “U Text, U Drive, U Pay” is the message the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) is sending to distracted drivers in April as part of “Distracted Driving Awareness Month.” Drivers using cell phones behind the wheel are not only at a higher risk for a crash, during April they face a greater chance they will be ticketed for their risky behavior. Nearly 150 law enforcement agencies around the state are adding patrols looking specifically for those distracted by cell phones while operating their vehicles.
“This show of force calls attention to the public safety threat posed by drivers being distracted by texting or talking on their phones,” said Angie Ward, program manager at WTSC, who is funding the patrols. “We want drivers to understand that you can operate a car. Or you can operate your phone. But you can’t be safe and do both at once.”
Statewide, nearly 150 law enforcement agencies (sheriff’s offices, police departments, plus the Washington State Patrol) will be out in force looking for distracted drivers.
This year’s distracted driving awareness month comes after news that fatalities from distracted driving increased by 32 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Washington, and a recent study by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission showing that 71 percent of distracted drivers are distracted by their cell phones – the most dangerous type of distraction. Studies show that drivers are up to four times more likely to be in a crash when talking on the phone (hands free or hand held) and 23 times more likely to crash when entering information into their phones.
Under current Washington law, it is illegal to text or hold your phone to your ear while driving. Violators pay a $136 minimum fine.
In 2014, citations for illegal cell phone use while driving increased 197 percent, the last year for which data is available. Says Ward, “While more tickets are issued during the patrols, people should know they can be ticketed any time. More than 2,000 tickets just for cell phone use were issued in November of 2014.”
The WTSC recommends that drivers adopt the following five common-sense rules:
- Turn off your phone and put it in the glove box.
- If you’re a passenger, hold the driver’s phone.
- Don’t text or call a friend or loved one if you know they are driving.
- If using GPS on your phone, plug in the address before you start the car and use a mounted phone holder.
- Talk to family members (especially teen drivers) about the risks of cell phone use. Model responsible behavior by not using your phone while in the car.
Washington law enforcement has been observing Distracted Driving Awareness Month with High Visibility Enforcement since 2014. The focus is a part of Target Zero, a statewide initiative to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roadways to zero by the year 2030. The WTSC is also placing distracted driving ads statewide, showing the consequences of a teen who texts while driving a car filled with her friends. You can see the ad here. Drivers can also learn more about distracted driving at http://wadrivetozero.com/.
“Our goal is that everyone will become more aware of the dangers of driving distracted. It only takes one driver distracted for a few seconds to wreck lives forever. We can avoid that – we just have to turn our phones off and turn safety on,” Ward said.
These extra patrols are part of Target Zero—striving to end traffic deaths and serious injuries in Washington by 2030.