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“I wasn't texting; I was just reading an email …”: a qualitative study of distracted driving enforcement in Washington State
  1. Paul E Nevin1,
  2. Laura Blanar2,3,
  3. Annie Phare Kirk4,
  4. Amy Freedheim5,
  5. Robert Kaufman2,
  6. Laura Hitchcock4,
  7. Jennifer D Maeser2,
  8. Beth E Ebel2,3,6,7
  1. 1Department of Global Health, University of Washington Schools of Medicine and Public Health, Seattle, Washington, USA
  2. 2Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
  3. 3Departments of Health Services and Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
  4. 4Public Health—Seattle and King County, Seattle, Washington USA
  5. 5King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Seattle, Washington USA
  6. 6Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
  7. 7Seattle Children's Hospital and Seattle Children's Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Beth E Ebel, Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, 325 Ninth Ave, Box 359660, Seattle, WA 98104-2499, USA; bebel{at}


Background In response to the rise of distracted driving, many countries and most US states have adopted laws to restrict the use of handheld phones for drivers. Specific provisions of each law and the overall social mores of distracted driving influence enforceability and impact.

Objectives Identify multilevel interdependent factors that influence distracted driving enforcement through the perspective of police officers.

Design/methods We conducted focus group discussions with active duty law enforcement officers from three large Washington State counties. Our thematic analysis used descriptive and pattern coding that placed our findings within a social ecological framework to facilitate targeted intervention development.

Results Participants reported that the distracted driving law posed challenges for consistent and effective enforcement. They emphasised the need to change social norms around distracted driving, similar to the shifts seen around impaired driving. Many participants were themselves distracted drivers, and their individual knowledge, attitude and beliefs influenced enforcement. Participants suggested that law enforcement leaders and policymakers should develop and implement policies and strategies to prioritise and motivate increased distracted driving enforcement.

Conclusions Individual, interpersonal, organisational and societal factors influence enforcement of distracted driving laws. Targeted interventions should be developed to address distracted driving and sustain effective enforcement.

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