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Survey: Many young drivers still texting, talking on phone behind wheel

A new survey finds nearly 50 percent of northwest drivers under age 35 say they sometimes text behind the wheel. (AP file)

It might be illegal and dangerous, but a new survey finds plenty of younger Northwest drivers are still texting and making phone calls behind the wheel. And many are going to great lengths to hide it.

The PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll revealed nearly 50 percent of drivers under age 35 in Washington and Portland say they sometimes text while driving. About one-fifth of drivers under 35 admit to talking on their hand-held phone at least sometimes while on the road, as well.

“Drivers know the danger of texting and driving, but our poll shows that people are still willing to risk harm by allowing their phones to distract them,” says PEMCO spokesman Jon Osterberg.

Perhaps even more disturbing, about one-quarter of drivers surveyed admit they hold the phone on their lap or below the window to conceal it from cops. And 13 percent just flaunt the law altogether by using their phones in the open regardless of the risk.

The poll also found about 10 percent of all drivers admit to using their phone by holding it away from their ear while driving at least some of the time.

“Many of us see fellow commuters holding a cell phone, maybe not to their ear, but near their face or on their lap while steering one-handed. The law’s intent is to ban drivers from holding cell phones, period, because it’s unsafe for everyone sharing the road,” Osterberg said.

The PEMCO poll revealed that about one-third of respondents rode in a vehicle driven by a texter in the past month and, of those passengers, 82 percent in Washington and 88 percent in Portland asked at least once that the driver stop texting.

Three-quarters of those who admitted texting sometimes behind the wheel say they only do it while stopped. But nearly one-third of all poll respondents didn’t know it’s still illegal to send or read text messages even when sitting at a red light, Osterberg says.

The survey finds nearly 50 percent of younger drivers use a speakerphone while driving. But Osterberg says even if they think they’re being safer, studies find that using a speakerphone or hands-free device can be just as distracting as holding the phone to make a call.

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