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Distraction – in its various forms – is an increasing problem in the United States.

On July 1, 2007, Washington became one of several states to ban the use of cell phones while driving, unless the driver is using a hands-free devise. Clearly, the influence of distracted drivers on road safety has become an increasing concern of Washington police (and residents).

“Anything you can do at home, people do it in their car,” said Washington State Patrol Trooper Jeff Merrill. “The longer our commutes are, the more people are trying to come up with ways to get more productive in their cars.”

It is difficult to determine what percentage of motor vehicle accidents are caused or contributed to because of driver distraction because much of the data gathered relies on drivers being honest about their behavior before the accident. According to the state safety commission, between 2001 and 2005 distracted or drowsy drivers contributed to 971 fatal crashes. However, police and traffic safety officials estimate that the actual numbers are much higher.

Though cell phones are often thought as the most common source of distraction to drivers, other electronic devises such as laptops, video games and navigation systems have become an increasing problem.

State law currently prohibits a television or video screen in the front seat of a vehicle or anywhere else in the car that would divert a driver’s attention.

Despite the focus on electronic devices, often it is behaviors such as applying makeup, eating, reading, or adjusting the radio that takes a driver’s attention off the road.

The distraction that other passengers can provide, especially to young drivers, is evidenced by the 41 percent drop in fatal and disabling collisions involving 16 and 17-year olds since the enactment of the Intermediate Driver’s License law. This law restricts the amount of passengers that can be in a new driver’s car in the first year of having their license.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Car and Motorcycle Accidents.

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