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New Study of WA Drivers: Accidents Waiting to Happen?

PHOTO: Researchers in six Washington counties observed motorists at busy intersections and noticed one in 12 drivers texting or talking on their mobile devices. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Researchers in six Washington counties observed motorists at busy intersections and noticed one in 12 drivers texting or talking on their mobile devices. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
September 10, 2013

SPOKANE, Wash. - One in 12 Washington drivers was spotted either texting or talking on the phone, in a study of motorists' behavior released Monday. Researchers sat at busy intersections in six counties over the summer to track what they saw, observing some 7,800 motorists. And their findings - that just over 8 percent of drivers are distracted by electronics - don't surprise personal injury attorneys who deal with the consequences of devastating accidents that can be caused by carelessness.

John Allison, a lawyer in Spokane, said he thinks the 8 percent figure is low.

"Well, I think we're all learning how to live with these devices," he said. "And frankly, we're all needing to get the message that, as tempting as it is to stay connected literally 24/7, we have to put them down when we're driving."

The Washington Legislature has banned texting behind the wheel and requires that mobile devices be hands-free when used in a vehicle. A pediatrics professor at the University of Washington received the grant to help determine whether the stronger law seems to have had an effect on drivers. The information will be shared with law enforcement officers and judges.

Even before the study, the Washington State Association for Justice had decided to do something different with its annual scholarship contest for high school pupils this fall. Instead of writing essays, Allison said, they'll be asking teens to make their own public service announcements about the dangers of distracted driving.

"We know that some of these kids have already seen firsthand what happens when people text and drive, with some of the kids who've been killed or seriously injured in accidents over the past year or two in Washington state," the attorney explained. "We're hoping to see some very compelling messages from these kids. "

The WSAJ Public Affairs Committee is still working on the details and deadlines, but the contest should start in October. Information will be given to high schools across the state so students can produce their video messages.

The awards page, where contest information will be available later this month, is at WashingtonJustice.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA