Drivers consider cell phone use unsafe



​​​​SEATTLE – According to a poll of Washington drivers commissioned by PEMCO Insurance, the majority use a cell phone while driving, and an even larger proportion think doing so is unsafe.

The poll shows most drivers believe cell phones cause a dangerous distraction, but fewer drivers take active and effective steps to prevent it.

"Cell phones have quickly changed our driving habits, and safety awareness hasn't kept up," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO Insurance spokesperson. "Drivers believe that a cell phone causes some danger, but they don't know how to balance safety and convenience yet."

PEMCO divided the poll results by age, gender, income level, family status and other classifications to look for trends.

Conflicted drivers
In the recent poll, 58 percent of Washingtonians admitted dividing their attention between the road and a cell phone while driving. When asked to rate the safety of using a cell phone while driving, 69 percent rated the activity dangerous or very dangerous.

The statistics show that 27 percent of Washington drivers use a cell phone while driving even though they believe it's dangerous or very dangerous.

"Many drivers sacrifice their better judgment for convenience," said Osterberg. "If your gut tells you to stop, hang up or pull over. Don't take that risk."

Uneven use of safety techniques
When asked about safety techniques such as pulling over to make and receive calls or answering and making only necessary calls, drivers' answers varied.

- 80 percent answer or dial only necessary calls - 73 percent tell callers they're driving - 45 percent pull over to answer or make a call - 39 percent use a hands-free device

Osterberg noted that the high percentage of drivers who make only necessary calls and tell callers they're driving shows an encouraging widespread effort to reduce distraction. However, PEMCO Insurance recommends drivers take more active and effective precautions if they must "talk and drive."

"The best way to reduce distraction while driving is simply to not use a cell phone," said Osterberg. "If you must use a cell phone while driving, pull over before making or answering a call, or use a hands-free device to reduce distraction."

That recommendation mirrors PEMCO's employee guidelines, announced last July. Also, all PEMCO Claims fleet vehicles have hands-free cell phones.

Some types of drivers more likely to 'talk and drive'
The survey also found interesting variations in the income, age, gender and family status of people who use cell phones while driving.

- The affluent (those earning more than $75,000 a year) are nearly twice as likely to use a cell phone while driving - Those with children under 18 are more than 25 percent more likely to use a cell phone while driving - Only 35 percent of those over 55 are likely to use a cell phone - Men are 11 percent more likely than women to use a cell phone while driving.

"Like speeding or any other dangerous driving activity, some drivers are more susceptible than others," said Osterberg. "Busy professionals and people with families seem to spend the most time on a cell phone while driving, and they should be the most aware of the distraction danger."

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), any driving distraction is likely to be hazardous, but the risk of using a cell phone while driving isn't easy to pin down. IIHS continues to conduct studies on drivers' cell-phone use and plans to release a review of the current studies and literature in the spring.

PEMCO Insurance also monitors data and information from the IIHS and other national research organizations such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"Cell-phone use is only a small piece of a very big driver-distraction puzzle," said Osterberg.

About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Washington state residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the state and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit

About the poll
In September, PEMCO used evidence from national studies to warn drivers about the potential distraction from cell phones. Before continuing to recommend safety guidelines, PEMCO Insurance conducted this poll to better understand Washington drivers' opinion on cell phone use while driving and what sort of safety precautions drivers currently take.

PEMCO Insurance commissioned the independent, statewide phone survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about their cell-phone use while driving. It asked drivers for a 1-5 rating on the danger of using a cell phone while driving and if they practiced several safe and courteous habits while driving.

Market Trends, Inc. of Seattle conducted the opinion monitor consisting of 600 interviews with Washington state residents. All interviews were conducted under the direction of Market Trends' telephone interviewing facilities in Seattle, Wash. Respondents were selected at random, using the random digit dialing method, and ZIP code quotas represented the respective Washington counties' populations.

The sample size of 600 respondents yields an accuracy of +/- 4.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study was conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4 percent.