New Statewide Survey Shows Cell Phone Use Greatest Cause of Distracted Driving

OLYMPIA, WA — The Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) released the results today of a first-ever statewide observational survey of distracted drivers. The survey found that cell phone use is the most common type of distraction, with 71 percent of distracted drivers engaged with their phones while operating their vehicles. Statewide, nearly 1 out of 10 drivers in Washington State are distracted while driving, representing a distraction rate of 9.2 percent. Fatalities from distracted driving increased by 32 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Washington.

“Our goal is reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roadways to zero by the year 2030; we call this Target Zero,” said Angie Ward, program manager at the WTSC. “With fatalities from distracted driving increasing, and with drivers engaging in the riskiest type of distracting behavior — cell phone use — reducing distracted driving must become a higher priority.”

More than 22,300 vehicle drivers were observed in the WTSC survey, in 23 counties across the state. While cell phone use was the most frequent distraction, other distractions observed (29 percent) included behaviors such as eating, tuning a radio, or attending to pets or children.

Other research has shown that cell phone use has been found to increase the risk of crashes by three times. Entering text into a cell phone can increase crash risk by up to 23 times.

Cell phone use is particularly risky because it causes what experts refer to as “inattention blindness.”  One study by AAA found that it can take a driver 27 seconds to refocus on the road after using a cell phone – in which time a car moving at 25 mph can travel the length of three football fields. Says Ward, “Research shows that cell phone use causes poor driving more than any other potential distraction. Choosing to use your cell phone while driving is one of the riskiest things you can do. Unfortunately, our study shows that too many drivers are putting themselves, their passengers and others at risk.”

Ward also pointed to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Study that showed while two-thirds of drivers support restrictions on cell phone use while driving, 70 percent of these same drivers admit to doing it themselves.

In addition to pending legislation to confront the issue of distracted driving, the issue is also being addressed by the WTSC through its Target Zero programs, and by state law enforcement agencies, who are working toward eliminating distracted driving behaviors through enforcement and education efforts, including a coordinated, statewide distracted driving patrol scheduled for April 2017. The WTSC also promotes awareness of distracted driving dangers through high school education programs.

This distracted driving observational survey will be conducted biennially by the WTSC so that the Commission can track statewide efforts to reduce distracted driving behaviors. The goal of the WTSC is to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roadways to zero by the year 2030 (Target Zero). More information about Target Zero can be found

The full report is available at


The Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) is our state’s designated highway safety office. We share a vision with numerous other state and local public agencies. That vision is to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. The WTSC Director is the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative, which is a designated position each state is required to have in order to qualify for federal traffic safety funding. Our Commission is made up of 22 employees and ten Commissioners chaired by Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee.