Safety officials warn of ‘hangover effect’ after texting while driving

Apr 1, 2021, 1:47 PM
distracted driving...
A driver uses a phone while behind the wheel of a car on April 30, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission is calling on everyone to refocus on preventing crashes caused by distracted driving, which includes when drivers hold their cell phones.

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From April 1-19, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WSTC) says more than 130 police agencies are adding patrols and looking for drivers districted by their electronic devices. Drivers can also receive a “dangerously distracted” citation for committing other traffic violations due to any type of distraction.

“This is not about being punitive, this is not about raising money or funds, this is about the safety of the motoring public,” State Patrol Sergeant Darren Wright told KIRO Radio.

Wright says that driving while holding your phones is dangerous and deadly. It’s also against the law in Washington state to hold your phone while driving. The WSTC clarifies that you can use your phone if you are hands-free and can start use by a single touch or swipe of your finger; if you are parked or out of the flow of traffic; or if you are contacting emergency services.

Wright says if people put down their phones, it would dramatically reduce the number of driving injuries and deaths in our state.

“Distracted driving causes collisions, which we know causes injuries and deaths,” he said. “If everybody would put their phones down and not be distracted while they’re driving, we would take huge steps toward our goal of zero deaths and zero injuries on our roadways.”

Troopers and other law enforcement officers, Wright explained, will be working in a variety of ways to catch distracted drivers. He says you can be pulled over for simply holding your cell phone in your hand — and that includes while your vehicle is stopped at a light or an intersection.

“Having any electronic device in your hand while you’re driving is against the law, and you can be stopped and cited. Sitting at a stoplight or a stop sign, you’re still in violation if you have that phone in your hand,” Wright said.

According to the WTSC’s 2020 Distracted Driving Observation Survey, the statewide distracted driver rate increased from 6.8% in 2019 to 9.4% in 2020. Distracted driving behavior — which includes all types of distraction, not just hand-held cell phone use — on city streets rose from one in every 10 drivers to nearly one in every five, while driver distraction on county roads doubled.

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KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show discussed research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, first observed in 2015, which shows drivers remain distracted for as long as 27 seconds after using their phone or navigation. That 27 seconds is known as the “hangover effect,” but it has nothing to do with drinking. It happens whether the car is in motion or the driver is performing these tasks while parked or stopped at a red light.

“A lot can happen in the time it takes your mind to refocus on the task of driving,” said Kelly Just, a AAA Washington spokesperson. “This delay can lead to inattention blindness, where your eyes are looking at the road but your brain cannot see or register what’s in front of or beside you.”

To avoid driving “intexticated,” as AAA calls it, AAA Washington recommends: putting your mobile device out of sight and out of reach. It also helps to know where you’re going and program in your destination before you leave. If you have to call or text or need navigation help while on the road, either pull over and stop first, or ask your passengers for help.

Listen to Gee and Ursula’s conversation with KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan about distracted driving:

KIRO Radio’s Frank Shiers contributed to this report. Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Gee and Ursula Show

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Safety officials warn of ‘hangover effect’ after texting while driving