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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Distracted driving

Distracted driving is a serious concern for traffic safety. A distracted driver is one who is paying attention to something other than driving such as typing a text message, selecting music on an MP3 player or radio, or talking on a cell phone.

From 2008 to 2012, distracted driver-involved crashes accounted for at least 20% of all traffic fatalities in King County, killing 86 people (average 17 people each year) and seriously injuring an additional 338 people. Reporting of driver distraction has decreased recently without a corresponding drop in distracted driving behavior, so the true proportion of distracted driver-involved crashes is under review at the state level.
...Washington Traffic Safety Commission, July 2013

"Driver Distracted" was the fifth leading contributing cause and "Inattention" was the sixth leading contributing cause reported by law enforcement officers for all traffic collisions on state routes in Washington state in 2011.
...Washington Department of Transportation, 2011 Annual Collision Data Summary

While sources of distraction may vary, the dangers associated with cell phone use are alarming. A 2009 study revealed that drivers of heavy vehicles or trucks who text messaged were at a 23 times higher risk for a crash than non-distracted drivers. Using a cell phone can pose a serious cognitive distraction even with a hands-free (headset, speakerphone, or other) device. As a general rule, drivers should make every effort to move to a safe place off of the road before using a cell phone.

Text, Talk, Ticket!

Text, Talk, Ticket

As of June 10, 2010, Washington's cell phone law came into effect. If police see you holding a phone to your ear or texting while driving, they can pull you over. The fine for cell phone use is $124 and can be more if you cause a crash.

  • Washington's Text Messaging Law (RCW 46.61.668) prohibits sending, reading, or writing a text message while driving.

  • Washington's Cell Phone Law (RCW 46.61.667) prohibits hand-held wireless communication device use while driving.
    In an emergency situation, drivers are permitted to use a cell phone. Drivers should assess the urgency of the situation and the necessity to use a cell phone while driving and should consider pulling over to a safe place off of the road if possible.

  • Holders of an Instruction Permit (RCW 46.20.055) or an Intermediate License (RCW 46.20.075) cannot use any wireless communication device (regardless if hand-held or hands-free) while driving unless in an emergency situation.

Distracted driving prevention resources

Watch a video from the Driven to Distraction Task Force of WA State