Although the Legislature banned the use of handheld mobile devices and text messaging on the road three years ago, Washington drivers — about one in 12, in fact — are still using their phones while driving. This is according to a study by Beth Ebel, which appeared in The Seattle Times this week.
Ebel, a trauma doctor in the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Harborview Medical Center and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, observed behind-the-wheel behaviors of 7,800 drivers at intersections in six counties, including King and Pierce in the South Sound. She found 8.1 percent of drivers were using electronic devices — mostly cellphones — and about half of them were caught texting.
For some, like myself, the rate might seem low, but Ebel noted that it’s higher than previous estimates. Her report also pointed out that using a phone increases risk of a car crash by 23 percent.
For those that employ drivers, like Kent-based Smith Brothers Farms, using a phone while driving is more than illegal. It’s grounds for termination.
“That’s something we take very seriously. It’s something we’ve made exceptionally clear to our milkmen,” said Sean Flaherty, the company's public relations and marketing manager. “We put down a strong zero-tolerance policy for texting and driving. It’s part of the milkman’s manual. It’s spelled out in there.”
The company, which has 50 milkmen and women, added a section regarding cell phone use to its manual in 2009. Among the guidelines: “Never read or type text messages while your vehicle is moving.”
Drivers are allowed to use a Bluetooth headset while driving, which is primarily used for communication between drivers and someone in the office, said Flaherty. But they must remove the device before exiting their trucks.
Patrick Lynn, a delivery driver for Tacoma-based pizzeria The Cloverleaf, said he always waits until he’s pulled off the road before he checks his calls or texts.
This isn’t something that he’s specifically been told, though — even by his employer.
“I don’t know if we have any training along those lines,” he said. “I think it’s kind of common sense. If people need to be told, they’re probably going to do it anyway. The only people I ever see with their phone on their steering wheel are not delivery drivers.”
So, what’s your take on using a phone on the road? Do you agree with Smith Brothers’ zero-tolerance termination policy?