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Confusion around E-DUI law persists as citations, fatalities rise

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Target Zero graphicDrivers might agree cell phone use while behind the wheel is unsafe, but most are not changing their behavior, even with some alarming statistics and the passage of a strict E-DUI law.

A study by the King County Target Zero Task Force revealed a majority of drivers are still reluctant to put their phones down while driving, and many are still confused about the year-old law.

The survey, which coincided with the one year anniversary of Washington’s Driving Under the Influence of Electronics law, found that more than 70 percent drivers who were polled agreed that texting and emailing while driving is a “very serious personal threat.” A larger number, 75 percent of the 900 drivers in the survey, said they believe “it’s very unlikely that they will crash their vehicle by texting while driving.”

“Our goal is to make putting your phone away as common as putting your seat belt on,” said Sgt. Robb Kramp of the Mercer Island Police Department. He noted one out of four crashes involve cell phone use just prior to the crash.

Target Zero manager Annie Kirk said a gap exists between surveyed drivers’ understanding of the new law and their actual practices. One area of confusion she mentioned was whether it is legal for drivers to use their phone when stopped at an intersection. It is illegal. However, dialing 9-1-1 in the case of an emergency is allowed.

Washington’s E-DUI law prohibits drivers from using hand-held devices while driving. This includes cell phones, tablets, laptops and video games. Tickets go on drivers’ records and are reported to their insurance provider.

First-time E-DUI offenders will be issued a $136 ticket; a second ticket issued within five years of the first jumps up to a $234 fine.

Law enforcement officers have issued nearly 28,000 citations in the first year since the law was enacted, and that number doesn’t include Seattle Municipal Court and some of Spokane Municipal Court. Of the first-year citations, nearly 10,000 drivers in King County received tickets, according to Washington Administrative Offices of the Courts.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said a driver will continue to be distracted 27 seconds after putting their phone down. During that time, a car moving at 25 mph can travel the length of three football fields.

Fatalities from distracted driving in Washington increased 32 percent from 2014 to 2015. Drivers may be surprised at other statistics from the Washington State Crash Data Portal:

  • Between 2012 and 2017, King County’s distracted driving crashes increased 69.5 percent;
  • Fatalities rose from three in 2012 to 13 in 2017.
  • Statewide, fatalities surged from 15 to 87.

The Target Zero Task Force reported talking on a cell phone increases the risk of crashing three times, while texting raises the risk up to 23 times.

On a more encouraging note, Kirk said her group’s survey revealed more than half the respondents said they would stop using a cell phone if a passenger asked them to do so. The survey is set to repeat in 2019.

Learn more about what is legal and illegal
under the new E-DUI law on the Target Zero website.

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