Distracted driving is a serious subject for both drivers and law enforcement, as the law catches up to the technology now available in our cars and our phones. Many of us have sent a text to a friend, family member, or colleague while driving, believing that just a few seconds of pulling our attention away from the road will not matter. The reality is that distracted driving, even just a few seconds, can have serious consequences, both personally and legally.
What Is Distracted Driving?
The definition of distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone. The NHTSA states that there were 3,477 fatalities caused by distracted driving in the United States in 2015 and 391,000 injuries.
While most of us immediately think of technology as the main culprit, it can even involve eating or drinking, talking to the people in your vehicle, adjusting your stereo and navigation systems, being distracted outside the vehicle, and other multitasking.
Even just a few seconds of distraction can impact your ability to react to changing conditions on the road or even a sudden move by another vehicle. For example, if you are busy sending a text for just 5 seconds, at 55 mph, you have already traveled the length of a football field and done it essentially with your eyes closed.
There are three main types of distracted driving: visual, manual, and cognitive. What makes texting so dangerous is that it involves all three types of distraction, by taking your eyes, hands, and mind off the road.
Distracted Driving Facts
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that reportedly involve a distracted driver every day. Those most at risk include teenagers, who tend to exhibit other dangerous habits while driving, including not wearing a seatbelt, being more likely to ride with a driver who had been drinking and was more likely to drink and drive themselves.
In Pennsylvania, there were at least 13,846 crashes in 2010 where distracted driving played a part, a number that is rising as cell phones become even more common. Authorities in New Jersey cited driver inattention as a major contributing cause in over 800,000 motor vehicle crashes from 2010 to 2014.
The problem of distracted driving is all too common. At any moment of the day, about 660,000 drivers are handling cell phones or other electronic devices. Those who choose to use their electronic devices while driving are three times more likely to get into an accident, according to DMV.org.
Educational Efforts to Spread the Message
Today, with cars and trucks having new additional features and more electronic gadgets than ever before, it can easily seem as if there is always something else to focus on besides the road. As a result, organizations are focused on teaching new drivers the importance of avoiding distractions.
In 2007, three organizations came together at the urging of Jon Hamm, CEO for the California Association of Highway Patrolman, forming Impact Teen Drivers. The group targeted new teen drivers, providing awareness and education on the importance of responsible driving. Thanks to the group’s efforts, the program has expanded into 27 states. These educational efforts continue to help teenagers make smarter choices about taking their attention away from their vehicle and the road.
In 2015, NHTSA began the “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. The campaign provides information to local and state law enforcement, in hopes of educating drivers, especially new ones, about the importance of not using electronics while driving.
Other programs throughout the nation are also being implemented, with the hope of spreading the message of avoiding distractions.
Legal Implications of Distracted Driving
Many states have recognized the problem of distracted driving, viewing it as risky as driving impaired by alcohol or other substances, thus enacting distracted driving laws. As of June 2017, texting while driving is banned in 47 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. Additionally, 14 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia have prohibited all drivers from using hand-held cell phones.
New Jersey has one of the strictest bans on texting and using your cell phone while driving. It was one of the first states to enact such a law. In June 2013, a new bill was adopted to increase the fines for these violations. Pennsylvania’s police officers have issued over 1,300 tickets for texting while driving, but there are calls to amend the law to include talking on your cell phone as well. In New York, the law is broader than Pennsylvania and New Jersey, prohibiting the use of all “portable electronic devices.”
Local governments have also been active in banning cell phone use and texting while driving. Federal employees, per an executive order by former President Obama, are prohibited from texting while driving on government business or with government equipment. Clearly, the states see distracted driving as a hazard and have created legal consequences to address this issue, which can include fines and other consequences.
The best way to avoid being distracted while you drive is to not use your phone to text or make calls while the vehicle is on the road. If it is urgent that you text or make that phone call, pull over safely to the side of the road first. The dangers of texting and driving are all too real. It is important to prevent distracted driving by making a habit of not taking the call or deciding not to text while on the road.
If you have been involved in a serious car accident and think distracted driving played a factor, we can help you to determine your legal options. Contact our law offices today for a consultation.
As one of the most successful litigation practices in the Philadelphia area, Marrone Law Firm, LLC provides vigorous, effective representation in matters ranging from personal injury and medical malpractice to real estate and criminal law.