Portland Drivers Beware: One in Three Chance Car Next to You Driven by Distracted Driver

Drivers Call for Harsher Penalties for Transgressors



​​PORTLANDIf you’re driving in the Greater Portland area, about one in three drivers in the cars next to you are likely breaking the law by using a cell phone without a hands-free device, and about one in four are texting or e-mailing while driving.

And according to a poll from Northwest-based PEMCO Insurance, nearly half of Portland-area drivers are upset enough at the prospect of sharing the road with distracted drivers that they believe lawmakers should treat those caught talking, texting or e-mailing while driving more harshly.

“Distracted-driving laws are becoming common across the U.S., and for good reason,” said PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg. “Distracted driving is dangerous, and while our poll results show that most drivers agree, we need to raise awareness to help lower the number of drivers who are focused on their phones rather than on the road.”

Of the Portland-area drivers surveyed in the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll, 31 percent said they use their cell phones without a hands-free device while driving, and of those violators, 26 percent admit they use their cell phone to text or e-mail while they’re behind the wheel.

Still, a full 42 percent of respondents said that texting violations – a primary offense in Oregon – are serious enough to warrant more than the accompanying $142 fine. And a majority – 55 percent – agree that violations for handheld phones and texting should appear on a driver’s record.

In January 2010, it became a primary offense to use a handheld mobile device while driving in Oregon, which includes texting and sending e-mails from a cell phone and talking without a hands-free accessory. Fines of at least $142 are levied against violators, and the current law mandates that the citation become part of a driver’s record.

PEMCO's poll found that almost one in three drivers - 32 percent - think the fine should be at least $250 for texting while driving, and 15 percent think $500 or higher is a more appropriate fine for violating texting laws. 

One-third of all Portland drivers agree that merely talking on a handheld phone while driving warrants a fine greater than $142.

Of course, those who are more inclined to commit the offenses are more likely to believe the current fines are excessive, according to the poll. 

Only 13 percent of all Portland-area drivers said the fine should be reduced because the texting offense isn’t serious enough to justify the $142 price tag.

According to the poll, 43 percent of those who often or sometimes text while driving think the $142 fine for texting is too high, compared to the 8 percent of drivers who rarely or never text in the car.  

Drivers under age 35 are also significantly more likely than their older counterparts to say that the fine – for either texting or talking – is too steep.

To learn more about PEMCO’s poll and to view a summary of the results, visit www.pemco.com/poll, where the public is invited to take an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare to those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in August 2011.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll

PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington and Oregon drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 601 respondents in Washington and 600 respondents in the Portland metro area, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4.1 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance

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