NHTSA Report on Distracted Driving in Washington
Distracted Driving. Really Scary

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a report detailing the rates of driver electronic device use across the United States in 2022. The report, titled “Driver Electronic Device Use in 2022“, provides valuable insights for Washington state residents on the prevalence of distracted driving behaviors.

According to the report, “The percentage of passenger vehicle drivers talking on handheld phones decreased from 2.5 percent in 2021 to 2.1 percent in 2022.” While this represents a slight decrease, it still means an estimated 314,353 drivers were using handheld phones while driving at any given daylight moment in 2022.

Rates of Different Types of Distracted Driving

The NHTSA study looked at three main types of distracted driving involving electronic devices:

  1. Holding phones to the ear
  2. Speaking with visible headsets on
  3. Visibly manipulating handheld devices

Here are the key findings for each category in 2022:

Distracted Driving BehaviorPercentage of Drivers
Holding phones to the ear2.1%
Speaking with visible headsets on0.4%
Visibly manipulating handheld devices3.1%

Importantly, the report notes that for the “visibly manipulating handheld devices” category, the 2021 data erroneously included drivers manipulating in-vehicle infotainment systems, while the 2022 data collection reverted to the standard protocol of excluding infotainment system use. Therefore, the 2021 and 2022 data points for that category are not directly comparable.

Distracted Driving In Washington 2022 NHTSA Findings - woman using phone while driving the car

Demographic Differences in Handheld Phone Use

The study also analyzed differences in handheld phone use rates across various demographic groups. Some notable findings include:

  • Handheld phone use continued to be higher among female drivers than male drivers
  • Usage was highest among drivers aged 16-24 and lowest among those 70 and older

“The 2022 NOPUS found that handheld cellphone use continued to be higher among female drivers than male drivers, and the gap was reduced for the first time since 2019,” according to the report.

Chart showing Driver Use Of Electronic Devices 2013 2022

Estimating Total Phone Use While Driving

Beyond just observing handheld phone use, the researchers estimated total phone use by drivers, including both handheld and hands-free devices. By applying data from a 2016 NHTSA survey on the relative proportion of handheld vs hands-free use, they calculated that approximately 6.4% of drivers were using either a handheld or hands-free phone while driving during a typical daylight moment.

Distracted Driving In Washington - man using phone while driving the car

Laws Against Distracted Driving

As of June 6, 2022 when the data was collected, the state of Washington was one of 24 states plus D.C. that had laws banning all handheld phone use while driving. Additionally, 48 states and D.C. ban text messaging for all drivers.

In Washington, both of these laws are primary enforcement, meaning an officer can pull over and cite a driver for the electronic device use violation alone, without needing another reason for the traffic stop. The state has taken a strong stance to reduce dangerous distracted driving behaviors.

The Importance of Attentive Driving

Distracted driving poses a major risk to the safety of drivers, passengers, and others on the road. Taking your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off the driving task can lead to crashes resulting in injuries or fatalities.

Drivers in Washington state should take heed of the NHTSA findings and always practice attentive driving habits. If you need to use your cell phone or other electronic device, pull over to a safe location first rather than attempting to multitask behind the wheel. By avoiding distractions and focusing on the road, you can do your part to keep yourself and others safe while driving.

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