A recent study conducted by UW Medicine researchers at
Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center found that nearly one in ten drivers in Washington state was using a cellphone and other electronic device while behind the wheel — and nearly half of these drivers were texting.
“These findings suggest that distracted driving in our state is far more common than we thought and that texting has become a major cause of distraction,” says
Dr. Beth Ebel, a UW associate professor of pediatrics.
Distracted driving is similar to driving while impaired
Research has shown that driving while talking on a handheld cellphone is so distracting that it is like driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08, the legal limit in Washington state, and texting while driving is similar to having a blood alcohol level of 0.19 — more than twice the legal limit.
“We all know we shouldn’t get behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or 0.19 — so why would we use our cellphones while we drive and put ourselves, our passengers and other folks on the road at the same risk?,” Ebel says. “The reason, for most of us, is that we do it out of habit. It’s hard not to answer the phone; we’re almost compelled to answer it.”
Strategies to stay safe on the road
The best strategy is to turn off or mute your phone when you get into your car so you won’t hear it ring while you’re driving. “Have a talk with your family and your friends who call you often and explain to them that while you’re driving, you’re not going to answer the phone,” Ebel says. “They’ll understand. Frankly almost everything we talk about on the phone is just not that urgent and can wait until we’ve arrived safely at our destination.”
Ebel adds that if you’re expecting an urgent call, pull off the road first and then take the call. “That way you won’t endanger yourself, your kids in the backseat, and others sharing the road with you — and you’ll be able to give your full attention to the call,” she says.
“We all need to recognize that driving while talking on a handheld device or texting while we’re at the wheel is driving impaired. It’s dangerous, illegal and unnecessary — so make it a habit to mute your phone, put it away and then relax, enjoy your drive and get home safely,” says Ebel.
For more driving safety tips or to request an appointment with a primary care physician, call