Opinion

Driving with attitudes, knowledge, awareness

It is only a snapshot, a gauge of self-reported driving behavior on our roadways.

But some things are clear from a recently released Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) survey.

For one, we are honest with ourselves when it comes to how we act behind the wheel. And second, we need to do a better job of steering away from hard-to-kick, unsafe driving habits.

Data was collected at select Department of Licensing (DOL) locations throughout the state. DOL patrons were approached and drivers aged 18 years and older who were renewing their driver's licenses were asked to complete the brief survey while they wait.

To summarize, the survey said:

• Three-quarters of Washington drivers thought they were likely to get a ticket for going 68 mph on a freeway posted for 60.

• Three-quarters of drivers surveyed thought they were likely to get a ticket if they did not wear their seat belt.

• More than 90 percent thought they were likely to get arrested if they drove drunk.

• More than three-quarters of all drivers surveyed reported talking on a cellphone or sending or receiving a text message while driving. Cellphone and texting behavior varied substantially with age.

"There are some things that are alarming, surprising ... cellphone use ... and reported drinking and driving behavior," said Staci Hoff, WTSC research manager.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which funded the survey, recommended that states ask residents annually for their opinions about driving and their awareness of enforcement campaigns.

The WTSC uses the survey results to track trends and evaluate the effectiveness of programs, particularly with drivers involved in fatal crashes.

"Evaluating drivers' attitudes and awareness is very important to us," said Darrin Grondel, director of the WTSC. "This information shows us the best ways we can reach our goals in Target Zero."

Target Zero is the state's Strategic Highway Safety Plan with a vision of no traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

For the most part, more than half of all Washington drivers reported knowledge of enforcement campaigns. Wearing seat belts in the Evergreen State continues to be a big success story for traffic and safety leaders.

A newly-released federal report shows that Washington had the highest seatbelt use rate in the nation in 2011 at 97.5 percent. It marks the seventh consecutive year Washington's seatbelt use rate has been above 95 percent.

But Hoff admits more work needs to be done in other areas, notably cellphone abuse behind the wheel.

"It's a lot higher than we would like it to be," Hoff said of the numbers.

Hoff is working on tracking trends. That year-to-year report is due in several months and may reveal more information and insight.

In the meantime, some government, policymakers and industry officials are making changes.

The Metropolitan King County Council voted Nov. 5 to create the traffic offense of "inattentive driving." The state already prohibits most forms of electronic distracted driving, but the county law adds activities such as eating, wrangling children, putting on make-up and eating.

The King County law calls for secondary enforcement and fines of $124. It goes into effect with the new year.

Distracted driving killed 122 people in King County between 2004 and 2008, safety researchers reported.

The WTSC intends to do its part to put the word out, design marketing campaigns to target drivers and unsafe habits. It wants to make an impact. This is a never-ending quest.

If anything, more drivers are aware of what they are doing – and not doing – behind the wheel.

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The 2011 Washington Driver Survey Report is available at www.wtsc.wa.gov.

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