Texting, calling at the wheel still a problem

If you’ve seen people texting or talking on the phone while driving — or if you’ve been doing it yourself — a new poll shows you’re not alone.

It’s dangerous, illegal, and people still are doing it.

A recent poll by PEMCO insurance found that most people are aware of state laws prohibiting texting and hand operation of phones while driving, and some are knowingly violating those laws. Many of those are younger drivers, according to the poll.

In Washington state and the Portland metro area, about half of those surveyed under age 35 say they sometimes text behind the wheel. About 20 percent of drivers under age 35 also admit to talking on a hand-held phone at least occasionally while driving.

The poll shows that regardless of age, some drivers confess to trying to conceal their cellphone use to keep from being seen by police.

According to the poll, almost one-quarter of younger drivers and about 10 percent of all drivers admit to holding their phone, but away from their ear, when using their mobile phone while driving at least some of the time.

About 25 percent of drivers who admit they violate the law say they hold their phone on their lap or below the window to avoid being seen. About 13 percent don’t even try to hide it – they use their phone as if it were legal.

According to the poll, one-third of respondents rode in a vehicle driven by a texter in the past month. Of those passengers, 82 percent in Washington and 88 percent in Portland asked at least once that the driver stop texting.

On average, sending a text causes a driver to look away from the road for 4.6 seconds, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. At 55 miles per hour, a vehicle can travel the length of a football field while the driver’s attention is diverted.

The transportation department estimates that drivers who text while on the road contribute to at least 100,000 collisions each year, and the National Safety Council estimates that cell phone use is a factor in nearly one in four crashes.

Nearly one-third of the poll respondents didn’t know it’s still illegal to send or read text messages when sitting at a red light.

The poll indicates that drivers do attempt to use some measure of caution while on their cell phones. About half (48 percent) of young drivers (35 years of age or younger) in Washington say they use the speakerphone function while driving.

The responses were collected by FBK Research of Seattle in November 2013. For more information, go to www.pemco.com/poll.

Driver’s license terms extended

The state has begun issuing new driver’s licenses for six years instead of five, according to the state Department of Licensing.

Later this year, at a date yet to be determined, renewals will be issued for six years as well.

The fee for a motorcycle certification changes from a flat $25 fee, which must be paid each time the person’s driver’s license is renewed, to a $15 fee plus $2 for each year until the next license renewal.

The overall fee for new licensees will increase from $80 to $89. This includes $9 per year for each year of the license and a $35 application fee.

People applying for a state ID card also now will receive a card for six years instead of five, at the same fee for driver’s licenses minus the application fee.

The Legislature in 2012 approved extending driver’s license terms from five to six to cut volumes and wait times in licensing offices.

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