Distracted driving is a growing problem. It occurs when a driver focuses attention on something other than the road. A driver who is unwraps a drive-thru sandwich, who looks at herself in the rearview mirror while putting on makeup, or who watches a crane lifting steel girders instead of watching the road is distracted from the task of driving.
In recent years, however, the increasing role that technology plays in our lives has turned distracted driving into an epidemic. Mobile phones, tablets, GPS devices, and other portable electronic gadgets compete for the attention of drivers who should be giving full attention to other cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, and bicyclists who are at risk whenever a driver is distracted.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,450 traffic accident deaths were caused by distracted driving in 2016. Nearly 10% of all traffic accident fatalities are attributed to distracted driving. While NHTSA injury accident statistics from 2016 are not yet available, NHTSA attributed more than 390,000 traffic accident injuries to distracted driving in 2015.
Cellphones and Driver Distraction
Traffic studies suggest that an average of 481,000 drivers are using a cellphone at any given time while driving in daylight. The number of drivers who hold or manipulate a mobile phone while driving far exceeds the number who use a hands-free headset to connect to their phones. Even when a hands-free phone is mounted to a dashboard, however, drivers must take their eyes off the road when they dial a call or read an incoming text.
Sending a text is among the most dangerous distracted driving behaviors because texting takes the driver’s eyes off the road for an extended time. Even if it takes a driver only 5 seconds to send a text, a car moving at 55 mph will travel the entire length of a football field while the driver’s eyes are not focused on the road.
Nearly all states prohibit texting while driving. No state completely prohibits cellphone use while driving, but 16 states ban the use of a handheld phone while driving. Other states ban handheld cellphone use by novice drivers or bus drivers.
States that prohibit handheld operation of a cellphone usually allow a driver to mount a cellphone to the dashboard and to connect to it via a Bluetooth device. The trend to ban all drivers from holding a cellphone is growing in response to evidence that drivers who are holding a phone are more likely to cause an accident than drivers who are not.
Distracted Driving Accidents
Whether or not state law prohibits holding or dialing a cellphone while driving, every state requires drivers to drive safely. State laws typically require drivers to pay attention to the road and prohibit inattentive driving. Courts in every state allow injury victims to prove a driver’s negligence by presenting evidence that the driver’s failure to pay attention to traffic caused an accident.
Accidents can happen in many ways when drivers do not watch the road. Distracted drivers:
- Do not notice when they are straying across centerlines
- Fail to see red lights and stop signs
- Are unaware that the car they are following made a sudden stop
- Can’t see a child chasing a ball into the street
- Have too little time to react to changing traffic conditions
Rear-end collisions are the most common traffic accidents in cities and towns, and they are usually caused by distracted drivers. After all, a rear-ended car did not suddenly appear on the road. Rear-end collisions usually occur because a distracted driver doesn’t notice the car, or isn’t aware that the car has stopped, before crashing into it.
Even at relatively low speeds, rear-end collisions can cause painful and nagging whiplash injuries. When distracted drivers are moving at a high rate of speed, or when they enter an opposing lane of traffic or run a red light, the resulting collision can have drastic consequences. Traumatic brain injuries, spinal damage, fractured bones, and many other serious traffic accident injuries are caused by distracted driving.
Pedestrians, bicycle riders, and motorcyclists are the most vulnerable victims of distracted driving accidents, because they are not surrounded by steel, as are passenger car occupants. Still, anyone who is the victim of a distracted driver may suffer a serious or fatal injury. Personal injury lawyers help accident victims and families recover the compensation they deserve from distracted drivers.