Many Washington drivers still texting behind the wheel

SEATTLE -- According to a new study by the University of Washington, nearly half of the distracted drivers text behind the wheel.

The study was the first to examine electronic device usage by drivers in the state. It found that more than 8 percent use the devices behind the wheel, a higher amount than researchers had expected. Among the distracted drivers, 45 percent text while driving.

The study looked at 7,800 drivers in six Washington counties, with investigators observing drivers engaged in distracted activity. The most common form of distraction was a hand-held device like a phone. Researchers said most drivers were spotted holding their device near or underneath the steering wheel, diverting their attention from the road.

"Most people support laws restricting texting and cell phone use in vehicles, yet some choose to engage in behaviors that put everyone on the road at risk," said Dr. Beth Ebel, principal investigator with UW Medicine's Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.

As of 2010, the fine for using a hand-held mobile and texting device behind the wheel in Washington is $124.

Investigators said that in October, they plan to release a statewide report showing how the distracted driver data breaks down county by county.