PEMCO Poll Notes Trends in Cell Phone Usage

May 3, 2005

According to PEMCO’s 2005 Northwest Insurance Poll, four out of five Washington drivers believe that talking on cell phones while driving should be legal only with hands-free devices, or made illegal altogether, but changes to state law won’t likely happen soon.

“People are really tired of getting on the road and seeing people talking on a phone and not watching the road,” said Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way. Eide sponsored a bill that would require the use of a hands-free device while driving, but it failed to pass through the state legislature for the fifth year in a row.

Similar bills already have passed in New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C. limiting cell phone usage to hands-free devices while driving.

“Although studies on the effectiveness of hands-free cell phones are still inconclusive, most people intuitively understand that hand-held phones are dangerous,” said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO Insurance spokesperson. “You need both hands to control a vehicle. How often have you seen someone who’s holding a phone to their ear change lanes without signaling?”

PEMCO continues to recommend that drivers pull over before making or taking a call if they must use a cell phone while driving. Alternatively, use a hands-free device to reduce distraction.

Fifty-two percent of Washington state drivers admitted to talking on their cell phones while driving. Of those, nearly three-fourths said they do so because changing situations require them to learn where to drive to next, while 18 percent said they use their cell phones to be productive during wasted drive time.

PEMCO learned that 19 percent — about one in five — of Washington drivers “often” or “sometimes” talk on cell phones while driving. The poll also said the younger the driver, the more likely he or she would use a cell phone while driving, and do so to be productive.

Statewide, males are more likely to use a cell phone while driving as a way to be productive (22 percent) than female drivers (12 percent). Regardless of gender, people in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties are more likely to use a cell phone while driving as a way to be productive (22 percent) than the rest of the state (12 percent).

“A lot has been said about cell phones simply being an inevitable result of our faster-paced world,” said Osterberg. “PEMCO advises people to trust their gut. If you’re driving while on the phone and feel yourself getting distracted, hang up or pull over. Don’t take the risk.”

Anyone who wants to compare his or her answers to the official results of the PEMCO Northwest Insurance Poll can do so online by visiting

“PEMCO believes that making people aware of driving distractions like cell phones is the first step toward encouraging more responsible driving behavior,” said Osterberg. “Rewarding responsibility is what we’re all about.”

One distracted driving bill did pass through the legislature this session. Senate Bill 5161 will require state patrol officers to report when any driver involved in an accident was distracted at the time by a cell phone, other electronic device (including but not limited to PDA’s, laptops, etc.), an audio or video entertainment, eating, drinking, smoking, reading, writing, children, and any other internal or external distractions.

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