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Deadly crashes spike on Washington roads, distracted driving blamed

OLYMPIA – Distracted drivers accounted for the most number of fatalities and serious injury accidents on Washington roadways in 2015. State officials released their Annual Collision Summary for 2015 this week, reporting 551 deaths on Washington roadways that year, up 20 percent from 2014.

The same report lists distracted or inattentive drivers as the number one contributor in accidents, making up 46,000 reports of the 114,000 accidents recorded in 2015.

“This guy that was just on his cell phone is now going 70 miles-per-hour and we’re in a 60 miles-per-hour zone,” said Sergeant James Poutry, with Washington State Patrol. It didn’t take long for Sergeant Poutry to find a distracted driver while on I5 near Olympia.

“You can see he still has the cell phone in his hands,” he said.

Statistically, cell phones are the number one problem taking eyes off the road, accounting for 70 percent of all distracted drivers. Earlier this month, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission released an observational survey of drivers, finding nearly 9 percent are distracted on the roadway.

Those findings help to reveal more about possible driver distractions listed in the Annual Collision Summary said Angie Hicks, distracted driving program director for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

“We call it the trifecta because it’s in your hand, your hand is off the wheel, it’s distracting because your eyes are on it and it’s distracting because you’re having a conversation with someone who is not in the vehicle with you,” said Hicks.

Hicks said it doesn’t matter if you’re speeding or stopped, cell phone use behind the wheel is dangerous and it happens more than you think.

“We think that average drivers, people that don’t drink and drive and don’t speed on a regular basis are probably distracted by their phone,” she said.  “I think a lot of us feel self-righteous because the only place we use our cell phone is at an intersection and yet it is by far the most dangerous places that we are on the road every day.”

Lawmakers are considering revising a ban of cell phone use while driving. A new bill would make holding cell phones or tablets while driving illegal, broadening current regulation.

“Laws help change the culture, laws help us become better safety traffic citizens,” said Hicks about the revisions proposed. “It reminds us what the right thing is.”