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Washington’s distracted driving law: has it reduced collisions five years into its passage?

Aug 16, 2022, 6:24 AM | Updated: 10:16 am
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(perthhdproductions via Flickr)
(perthhdproductions via Flickr)

Washington’s distracted driving law appears to be working. A new study shows it has reduced crashes across the state.

It’s been five years since the legislature beefed up our distracted driving laws by putting a total ban on having cell phones in your hand. The law only allows you one swipe to access your hands-free phone options while driving, which includes sitting at a red light, or being stuck in bumper-to-bumper congestion.

The only exception is for making an emergency call.

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety looked at states with and without these full bans and how they are impacting crashes. “We are seeing that this ban was working in Washington,” vice president of research Jessica Cicchino said. “It was reducing crashes.”

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Cicchino said researchers looked at rear-end crashes. “We focused on rear-end crashes because those are especially susceptible to distraction,” she said. “People are more likely to rear-end someone while they’re playing with their phone.”

The data suggests that Washington’s ban is making the roads safer. “Rear-end crash rates fell by 10% overall, and they fell even more when we looked at rear-end crashes where someone was injured,” Cicchino said. Rear-end injury crashes went down 9%.

Oregon has seen similar results since passing a full ban. California has not, and Cicchino believes it’s because Oregon and Washington’s bans are full, including at lights and in congestion. California’s law has a little more gray area. “We really think that part of Washington’s law is key,” she said. “It’s really all of the time.” Full bans also help with the enforcement of the rules.

But even with the compliance in Washington being good, 30% of fatal crashes involve distracted driving of some sort. That is from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

And just for a reminder, you can get a secondary distracted driving citation for eating a sandwich, putting on makeup, or having an animated discussion with passengers. That citation could be issued if an officer pulls you over for weaving in and out of your lane and discovers spilled lettuce and mayo as the reason for your lack of lane control.

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Washington’s distracted driving law: has it reduced collisions five years into its passage?