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Distracted Driving Awareness Month focuses on deadly problem


April 11, 2018

If you’re driving while entering information into a cell, you’ve increased your chances of crashing by 23 times.

Distracted Driving Awareness Month began last week with the deployment of extra patrols across Washington State April 2 through 14. Those extra patrols, which are part of Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s (WTSC) “On the Road, Off the Phone” Target Zero campaign, aims to specifically look for and ticket those who are distracted by cell phones while driving and shine a spotlight on the deadly and costly trend of distracted driving.

Studies and data have pointed to startling increases in auto accidents along with a corresponding impact on insurance costs over the last few years. Much of the increase is being blamed on distracted driving—especially the use of smartphones while driving.

In the United States, distracted driving crashes killed 3,477 people and injured 391,000 in 2015 alone, according to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). And from 2014 to 2015, distracted driving-related auto fatalities increased by 32 percent in Washington state.

“Insurers as well as traffic safety experts know that distracted driving-related crashes are increasing, and we can see a corresponding impact on the cost of insurance, as costs to treat injuries and repair vehicles continue to rise,” said Kenton Brine, NW Insurance Council president. “New laws in many states, including Washington and Oregon, are intended to remind drivers about the dangers and consequences of distracted driving – but it is up to all of us to heed the warnings.”

Distracted driving is broadly defined as activity that take a driver’s attention off the road, such as eating, conversing with passengers and talking or texting on cellphones. In 2015, distraction was a factor in 10 percent of fatal crashes reported in 2015, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), and cellphone use was a factor in 14 percent of all fatal distracted-affected crashes.

The increase in auto crashes is impacting insurance costs, as well. Nationally, the average expenditure for auto insurance has climbed from $838 in 2013 to $889 in 2015, according to I.I.I., and the Washington Insurance Commissioner’s office reported that on average, auto insurance rates among the state’s top 20 insurers increased 5.9 percent in the first half of 2017 alone.

“The cause-and-effect impact of distracted driving—especially the use of mobile devices while driving—are evident in the data,” said Kenton Brine, NW Insurance Council President. “Crashes and fatalities—even car vs. pedestrian accidents—are increasing and with each new tragic crash comes other costs, including higher insurance rates.”

All distractions are a reason for concern, but cell phone use while driving is the riskiest distraction for drivers. According to WTSC, talking on a cell phone increases crash risk by three times. Entering text into a smartphone increases crash risk by 23 times, and drivers talking on the phone, even hands-free, can miss up to 50 percent of what is going on in their driving environment.

Washington’s new “Driving Under the Influence of Electronics” (E-DUI) law, which strengthened penalties against the use of hand-held devices, went into effect last summer, and law enforcement agencies replaced “warnings” with real citations at the start of this year. Since enforcement began, nearly 1,500 drivers have been ticketed each month. The first E-DUI ticket will cost a driver $136, and if a second ticket occurs within five years the cost goes up to $234. Cell phone driving infractions are now included in state driving records available to insurance companies.

“Whether your own insurance premium will be affected by a citation for distracted driving – and what that impact could be – will vary, depending on your insurance company and your policy,” Brine said. “It’s a good idea to check with your insurance company or agent to find out more about those potential consequences.”

“An even better plan, however, is to avoid the ticket or the crash,” Brine added. “When you’re driving, keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and your mind on your driving.”

The NW Insurance Council will be distributing a series of news releases about distracted driving during the month of April. For more information about distracted driving or auto insurance, contact NW Insurance Council at (800) 664-4942 or visit


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