Drivers don’t see that they’re distracted

But they tell poll that others on road are dangerously inattentive

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



Pemco Insurance poll of Northwest drivers

Pemco Insurance poll of Northwest drivers

All those commutes spent observing drivers gabbing on the phone, grabbing something out of the glove compartment and gulping down a double-shot vanilla frappuccino? You must have imagined them.

More than two-thirds of Washington drivers don’t consider themselves part of the distracted driving problem, according to a new Pemco Insurance poll of Northwest drivers.

Instead, they blame everyone else on the road.

While about 40 percent of those polled agree that it’s extremely dangerous for other drivers to be distracted, just one-quarter of Washington motorists think it’s extremely dangerous if they are distracted.

Washingtonians believe, apparently, they can successfully navigate highways and byways with their eyes and attention elsewhere, but the rest of the motoring public cannot.

Perhaps we’re too, er, distracted to notice we’re part of the problem.

Here’s the kicker: Distracted driving is involved in 43 percent of fatal collisions in Vancouver, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Curbing distracted driving is a top priority for the city’s Target Zero program, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. The greatest number of deaths occur in the late afternoon, when school gets out and commuters are heading home.

When law enforcement officers select the cause of a collision in their police reports, they can choose from 13 distraction items. These were added to police collision reports in 2006 to better gauge what’s occupying people behind the wheel.

“Often, no evidence of distraction exists at the crash scene and drivers are reluctant to admit distraction played a role in the crash,” says a report from the Safety Commission. The number of crashes involving distracted driving may be under-reported.

Driving already divides a motorist’s attention, says Trooper Will Finn, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, what with adjusting speed, checking mirrors, watching and braking for other vehicles on the roadway, switching wipers on and off.

“The last thing you need is another distraction,” he said.

The No. 1 distraction is talking on a cellphone. Texting, while less common, is another top offender. Three-quarters of survey respondents say they never, ever text and slightly more than half say they never talk on a mobile phone while driving.

Signs of distraction

While it’s tough to spot a phone’s glow in the middle of the day, Finn says distracted drivers give themselves away by appearing impaired. On Wednesday, he saw a vehicle drift over the fog lines twice, switch lanes without signalling and erratically speed up and slow down — behavior that points to driving under the influence of intoxicants.

After Finn pulled over the vehicle, the driver, who was not impaired, said a spider had dropped down from his sun visor in front of his face. Troopers hear a variety of excuses, from the unwanted arachnid visitor to picking up a dropped “binky.”

According to Washington law, distracted driving is anything that takes your eyes off the road, hand off the wheel or attention away from the task at hand. In the survey, one in three drivers openly admit to being distracted at least some of the time.

“Motorists are frustrated” when they see other drivers get away with bad behaviors, Finn said. “We can’t stop everybody, but we’re trying.”

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513;;