Getting a DUI just got easier. Driving Under The Influence of Electronics (E-DUI) is real and will cost you as Washington State gets serious about reducing deaths from car accidents caused by distraction. The reason is clear: we know distraction from cell phone use increases risks of accidents over 20-fold and we know the habit of using a device has quickly become the norm. Here’s to hoping the new law helps us think of our cars as the sanctuaries they can be for those we cart around and for those we love. Of anything I’ve learned from researchers about vehicle safety and distraction it’s the reality that finger-wagging and telling-us-to-change type advice won’t affect our habits — we have to be motivated to change the culture of our car. We have to want to connect there or we have to be fearful of being fined. Since I made the podcast with Dr. Beth Ebel (embedded below), whenever I get in the car with my boys I think of it more like I think of time at the dinner table. And I love thinking about the car in that way. It’s so much easier to make sure I won’t pick up the phone…

The New E-DUI Law In Washington:

Tomorrow a new law signed by Governor Inslee bans holding hand-held devices, like cell phones, while driving (and even when you’re stopped at an intersection). The law makes it so drivers can only use their phones to call 911 or by using one finger to trigger a voice-activated application on bluetooth. In addition to a $136 ticket for your first offense and $234 for the second within 5 years, these citations will be reported to insurance companies. Learn more about the law on Washington’s Target Zero website. The reason is pretty clear — just as we were seeing the death rate fall from good seatbelt use and clamping down on DUIs, there has been a rise in accidents and deaths. Many believe this is in part due to the rapid rise of device distraction.

Under the new law you can’t even look at your phone at stop lights. Reason is, you lose awareness of situations around you and many accidents occur when pedestrians are struck by distracted drivers in intersections.

Data Driving The New DUI Laws:

  • Fatalities from distracted driving increased 32 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Washington.
  • 71 percent of distracted drivers engage in the most dangerous distraction, cell phone use behind the wheel
  • One out of four crashes involves cell phone use just prior to the crash.
  • At any given time, 2013 research has found that about 10% of people driving are actually using a device and half are texting! Anecdotally it only seems to be getting worse. I mean we look around and constantly we see people flying down the highway while trying to send messages.

The law is a big step in the right direction for avoiding injuries and death from distracted driving. We know that it’s hard for us all (!!) to keep the phone off or in the backseat. And we know the fear of tickets — the ones that take away money but the ones that also increase insurance premiums — may change behavior. And that’s the goal. Public service announcements scaring us about risk clearly are not enough and are clearly ineffective as use of devices in cars rages on.

Other Distractions When Driving:

All sorts of things can distract us while driving, of course (hello, screaming children in the back). And tickets will be given for other infractions (grooming, eating, reading or smoking) if it gets in the way of safe driving. Oddly, the tickets for those distractions are only $99. In addition, just how we think can put us at risk, too. So those with a diagnosis of ADHD who take medicine to focus should continue to be careful to drive only when taking prescribed medications. The distractions associated with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can be dangerous on the road. This may be especially true for our teens who are already at risk of getting in a car crash. In fact, driving is the most dangerous during the first six months that a driver is behind the wheel. For the majority of new drivers, 15 to 20 year-olds, they make up 10% of all motor vehicle traffic deaths and 14% of all police-reported crashes that result in injuries. So thinking carefully about devices, distractions, underlying risks, and experience behind the wheel all will matter.

Recent Study Findings on ADHD, Driving, And Distraction

A new study from JAMA Psychiatry of more than 2.3M US patients with ADHD found:

  • Untreated ADHD patients had the highest risk of a car crash
  • Men with ADHD were 38% less likely to have a car crash event when taking medication
  • Women with ADHD were 42% less likely to have a car crash even when taking medication

To better understand distracted driving, it’s important to know the three types of distraction that occur with smartphone use and each additional distraction increases risks and danger:

  • Visual (eye aversion)
  • Manual (hand preoccupation)
  • Cognitive (thought wandering)

Know the Risks

  • Car crashes result in approx. 33,000 deaths and 2.8 million injuries per year
  • Adolescents are 4x more likely to be involved in a car crash than drivers older than 20 years of age
  • Performance of a secondary task can increase the risk of a crash because it is cognitively demanding (texting is known to increase the risk of a crash by as much as 23-fold increase)!

The risks are everywhere. Let’s do our best to treat our cars like sanctuaries. Let’s travel as best we can without picking up our smartphones. And let’s welcome the law to help ensure we change our behaviors. For more from safety expert and pediatrician, Dr Beth Ebel, listen to the podcast below! She is so smart, so passionate, and so fair in working to find ways to make this better and safer for us all.