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New study by UW researchers finds 45 percent of Washington’s distracted drivers are texting

Texting While Driving

Texting While Driving -

In a new study by UW researchers, of the 8.1 percent of drivers found to be driving distracted, 45 percent were observed texting, emailing, or othewise using their phones. 

Photo by Anastasia Stepankowsky

Most people would think twice about driving a car with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .19, the BAC of a 160-pound person after about seven drinks. However, many don’t realize that texting and manipulating your phone while driving is equally as dangerous, and an alarming number of Washington’s drivers are texting while driving.

According to Dr. Beth Ebel, principal investigator with UW Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and associate professor of pediatrics at the UW, a new study of 7,800 drivers in major intersections in six Washington counties has found 8.1 percent of drivers in the state are driving distracted. This means they are engaged in activates that divert their attention from driving. Of these distracted drivers, 45 percent were observed texting, emailing, or manipulating their phone in some way, higher than previously estimated.

Ebel said the implications of this study are significant: About 4 percent of the drivers in the state are driving with the aptitude of someone who has had seven drinks before getting behind the wheel.

“When you text and drive, you are not only diverting your eyes off the road, you’re also diverting your attention span and using other fine motor skills to type and to maneuver your steering wheel. The senses you would use to drive a vehicle are being distracted,” UWPD Lieutenant Craig Wilson said.

Wilson described distracted driving as a growing problem here in the U-District.

“It’s not worth it. Because if you kill somebody, forget the fact that you now have a vehicular homicide felony and you’re going to prison, you have killed a human being over a text message,” said Amy Freedheim, senior deputy prosecuting attorney for felony traffic in King County.

Freedheim said she sees a number of distracted driving cases at the felony level. In order to stop this, she believes a culture needs to be established which discourages texting while driving as much as driving under the influence.

“It isn’t our boss or our teacher who we stop to text to, its our friends and our family. The people with whom we are communicating with most are the ones who would be most devastated if anything happened,” Ebel said.

Reach reporter Megan Herndon at news@dailyuw.edu. Twitter: @megherndon

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