Modern technology and convenience are now causing a huge problem for drivers everywhere. In the few seconds it takes to look at a text, computer screen or GPS, drivers enter the state now commonly called distracted driving. Distracted driving is making the news frequently, as the motorized vehicle crash rate, injuries and fatalities from this problem continue to rise. Distraction while driving includes any activity that takes your attention away from driving. This includes texting, but also many other common activities people engage in while driving.
The problem for many drivers, especially the younger and more inexperienced ones, is that the urge to communicate immediately is almost irresistible. This is why it is smartest to turn off those attractive attention-grabbing devices like cell phones and computers while you are driving. When there is no “bait” there is no “bite” and those temptations can be easily resisted.
California vs National Statistics
Distracted Driving & Liability
What is most disturbing about this situation is that it is completely avoidable, if only people would turn off their phones or stop somewhere to use these devices. Driving while texting or using a computer is negligent behavior and makes drivers liable for accidents that may occur while they are distracted. It causes billions of dollars in economic damage in addition to the human injury and fatality factors.
If you are found liable for accident claims because you were behaving in a negligent manner by not giving full attention to your driving, you and your insurance company will pay a big price for that indiscretion. You may also lose your driver license and have future insurance costs skyrocket. If you are also injured or killed, you and your survivors will have expenses that are not covered by your insurance company because your behavior caused the accident.
5 Seconds Makes a Difference
People who text while driving believe that they will not be affected by this activity. In reality, the average time it takes to read a text is just 5 seconds. However, in just 5 seconds, a car traveling at 55 miles per hour will cover the distance of a football field, 300 feet. A lot can happen in that short time span, especially if a driver is not paying full attention to the road ahead and possible hazards. It is just like driving blindfolded for that length of time and distance.
If you are distracted even for 5 seconds, you can run a light or stop sign, not see the car ahead of you making a turn, not see a motorcyclist trying to pass you, miss your exit, enter a turn too fast or have any number of other mistakes happen that result in an injury accident. Every second counts when you are driving a motor vehicle; you do not get a chance to do-over once the error is made.
Everyone is at Risk
These government statistics from 2013 about distracted driving are alarming, to say the least:
- People Killed in Distracted Driving Accidents – 3,154
- Injuries from Distracted Driving Accidents – 424,000
- Drivers using Cell Phones or other Electronic Devices while Driving – 660,000 at any moment during daylight hours nationwide. Texting takes attention away from driving more than using other devices.
- Crash Risk – 23 percent higher when drivers are text messaging while driving.
- Younger Drivers – under age 20 at highest risk from distracted driving; 25 percent admit they text once or more every time they drive and 20 percent have extended texting conversations with multiple messages while driving. Nearly half of the teen drivers age 16-18 reported that they text or email others while driving.
A 2011 CDC study revealed that 69% of drivers (aged 18-64) in the U.S. who were surveyed reported that they had talked on a cell phone while driving during the 30 days prior to the survey. Of that same group, 31% said they had read or sent text or email messages while driving at least once.
Another disturbing trend revealed in these studies was a relationship between teens and drinking. Those who did drive while distracted were more likely also to drink and drive or ride with others who had been drinking.
Many types of activities people do while they are driving are distractions, even if the activity only takes a few seconds. The main problem is that doing these other things requires some or all of the driver’s visual, manual and cognitive attention, and this is what makes distracted driving so dangerous. Texting requires all three modes of attention, making it the worse type of distraction. Distracted driving is dangerous not only to the driver and their passengers, but also to other drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Activities people engage in while they are driving a motorized vehicle include:
- Using a cell phone or smartphone
- Talking to other people in the vehicle
- Using GPS systems for navigation or reading maps
- Using a portable computer or other electronic device
- Playing computer games
- Watching a video program
- Adjusting the radio, a CD player or MP3 player
Texting While Driving Facts
Many groups are compiling statistics about distracted driving. The U.S. government has a website devoted to this subject, www.distraction.gov. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also tracks these statistics. This subject is being widely covered recently on television news programs as well. Both government studies indicate that fatalities due to distracted driving have decreased slightly over time between 2012 and 2013, about 6.7%, but injury rates are rising at a faster rate, up 9% from 2011 to 2012.
In the public domain, some organizations founded by parents of teens killed by distracted driving have publicized this problem. They also are offering some new solutions, like automatic message returns that lock down a cell phone and send out a message that the driver cannot talk at that moment because they are operating a vehicle.
The facts related to texting while driving accidents are stunning, with the highest incidence for teen drivers, but also involving people of all ages. Parents set an example for teens; if parents drive and use cell phones or text while driving, the chances are highly increased that their teen drivers will do the same things.
According to the CDC study, during the month of December 2012, over 171 billion text messages were sent or received in the United States. The CDC studied several other countries, but the US rates for texting while driving far exceeded rates for all those other countries. For drivers ages 18-54 in the U.S., over 31% admitted to reading or sending text or email messages while driving at least once in the month prior to the survey. Cell phone use was much higher, at 69% in the U.S.
Accident Rates – Distracted Driving
Accident rates from distracted driving are not a surprise when you consider a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that at any given daylight moment across the U.S., 660,000 people are driving while using hand held electronic devices or cell phones. It appears that the fatality rates are going down slightly, but the injury rates are increasing at a faster rate. Despite ongoing educational efforts to publicize the dangers of distracted driving, people continue to be irresistibly attracted to their electronic devices like cell phones and using text/email messaging.
Another study by the Vermont Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) I reports that when drivers engage in these activities (reaching for a phone, dialing or texting) using hand-held devices, they are three times more likely to get into a crash. This report also said that talking on a cell phone did not present a problem; it is the act of dialing, reaching for the phone and looking at it that caused the increased risk.
- Teen Drivers – NHTSA found that among drivers under age 20, 10% who were involved in a fatal crash were distracted at that time of their crash. This age group had the highest number of distracted drivers. About 27% of distracted drivers in the NHTSA study were in their 20s. Almost half of U.S. high school drivers over age 16 text or email while they are driving.
- Fatal Crashes – In 2012, 3,328 people, about 9 per day, were killed in distracted driving accidents across the U.S., according to the CDC. The numbers decreased slightly in 2013 to 3,154 fatalities, but were up again in 2014 to 3,179.
- Injuries – In 2013, over 421,000, or about 1,153 people daily were injured in distracted driving crashes. This is a small decrease from 424,000 in 2012. In 2011, about one in five crashes were injury accidents that involved distracted driving.
Safety Efforts to Reduce Distracted Driving Accident Rate
Nationwide, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, as of January 2015, 44 states have banned text messaging for drivers. Some have a created a graduated driver license program for teens to help them learn about the dangers of distracted driving. Whether or not these laws are effective is still in the study phase. In some areas, police departments are conducting special runs to look specifically for drivers who are texting or using cell phones. They look for people who are driving with their chin down on their chest, obviously looking at a hand-held device. Tickets for these offenses can be very steep, such as $100 for a first offense, and then $200 for the second.
- Nationwide, Federal employees have been prohibited from texting while they are driving on government business or using government equipment.
- The Federal Railroad Administration has banned employees from using cell phones and other electronic devices.
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has also banned commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving. In conjunction with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, commercial drivers and those drivers carrying hazardous materials also are banned from using all hand-held cell phones.
- Local and national TV news stations are running messages and stories about the dangers of distracted driving, to help educate the public about this problem.
Of the 44 states that have already banned the use of hand-held cell phones and texting while driving, California has enacted very strong laws to combat distracted driving. As a large state with hundreds of thousands of lane miles, California continues to have very high numbers of distracted drivers.
- The California Department of Motor Vehicles reported over 426,000 handheld cell phone and texting convictions during 2013. In April of that year, over 57,000 tickets were issued for this offense.
- In a 2014 survey, over 50% of Californians said texting while driving is the most serious type of distracted driving. In that same California Traffic Safety Survey, almost 53% admitted they made a mistake driving when they were talking on a cell phone.
- In the 2014 CTS Survey, 61% of California drivers said they were either hit or nearly hit by a driver who was texting or talking on a cell phone.
- A statewide observational survey found that distracted driving related to use of electronic devices by California drivers decreased down from 7.4% in 2013 to 6.4% in 2014.
California has taken a strong approach to this problem in their Primary and Secondary laws. They have enacted a handheld ban that applies to drivers of all ages. All cell phone use, including hands-free, is banned for bus drivers and novice drivers (novice: under age 18). Texting is also banned for all drivers.
Some states allow drivers to have cell phones, GPS units and other electronic devices if those items are not hand-held, but instead permanently installed on the vehicle. This still contributes to the problem of distracted driving, as drivers are forced to look away from the road ahead and touch the keypads or screens to use those devices.
Strong laws and strict enforcement of those laws, in conjunction with widespread publicity about the hazards of distracted driving are helping to reduce the fatality rates related to driving while distracted, but accident rates continue to grow higher. It is an on-going problem for everyone.
Learn more about Distracted Driving at these Resource websites:
Personal Injury Legal Assistance
If an accident or deliberate harmful behavior caused by distracted driving injured you, or death to a loved one, it is time to take action and fight back.