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It’s easy to assume that someone was driving recklessly when an accident happens on the road. More often than not, however, the biggest cause of car accidents is simple inattention on the part of the driver. Distracted driving is when the driver’s attention is diverted away from driving by any number of things. And with the number of ways to distract yourself always growing, the number of resulting accidents keeps rising.
In a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they found that there were nearly 3,500 fatalities in distraction-based accidents in 2015, a 8.8 percent increase from 2014. That makes up nearly 10 percent of all car accident deaths that year. With both fatalities and injuries on the rise, distractions are one of the biggest concerns on the road.
There’s incredible risk in letting yourself get distracted behind the wheel. And if you’re in the other car and are the victim of an accident caused by a distracted driver, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver if there is sufficient proof that their attention was elsewhere.
Types of Distractions
There are a lot of ways you can become distracted while driving, and so there are a number of different ways to categorize it. Often, they are divided into three separate categories.
Manual distractions occur when the driver is distracted by something involving their hands, meaning they are unable to control the vehicle fully. These are some of the more common distractions that have led to accidents over the years. Some examples of these are:
- Taking a call
- Eating and drinking
- Personal grooming (putting on clothes, combing hair, applying makeup)
- Adjusting radio
Whereas manual distractions cause drivers to take their hands off the wheel, visual distractions cause them to take their eyes off the road. Sometimes these two types of distractions overlap; texting while driving means distracting yourself both manually and visually. Other examples include:
- Reading text messages
- Reading any type of content on your cell phone
- Looking in the mirror to check your appearance
- Focusing on a passenger to talk to them
- Looking at a map or GPS
- Looking at video from electronic device, including cell phones or other digital entertainment systems
A cognitive distraction is one that takes the driver’s mind off the road for an extended period of time. These don’t just distract physically and visually, but mentally.
Some cognitive distractions are:
- Focusing on a phone call or conversation with someone else in the car
- Caring for or disciplining your children
- Focusing on stressful situations unrelated to your drive
Distracted Driving Laws
Most states have enacted some form of law or statute that prohibits distracted driving. The general definition for what constitutes “distracted driving” in a way that would make it illegal is that the driver is doing something that is not required to operate the vehicle and actively impairs their ability to drive in a safe manner.
The specifics of these laws will vary from state-to-state. Some states have gone out of their way to prohibit certain known distractions in their statutes - reading, writing, personal grooming, make-up, etc. The most common distracted driving laws, unsurprisingly, revolve around cell phone usage. These laws also vary state-to-state; some prohibit any handheld use of a cell phone while driving. Other laws may be specifically intended for specific groups of people, such as bus drivers or “novice” drivers, which usually refers to drivers under the age of 18.
States that have laws and statutes against cell phone use while driving will either have them as a primary law or a secondary law. If you live in a state where it is a primary law, you can get pulled over and cited if an officer sees you using a handheld electronic device. If it is a secondary law, however, the violation can only be cited if you were pulled over for a different violation. States like California, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee have primary laws about device usage.
Distracted Driving Statistics
- In 2014, 16 percent of all car accidents reported by police were said to be affected by distractions, according to the NHTSA.
- Drivers ages 20-29 made up 24 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes, 29 percent in distracted drivers in fatal crashes, and 39% of drivers using cell phones in fatal crashes.
- 61 percent of fatal distraction-affected crash victims were the driver. 22 percent were a passenger, while 13 percent were pedestrians.
- Approximately 18 percent of people injured in car accidents were in distraction-affected crashes; 8 percent of those involved cell phone use.
- The 15-19 age group represented 7 percent of drivers in fatal crashes, but 13 percent of the drivers who were using a cell phone.
- That same year, teens made up 9 percent of the deaths in distraction-affected crashes.
- 10 percent of drivers in fatal crashes were teens; 52 percent of deaths in those crashes were also teenagers.
- Despite the stereotype of the texting teenager, a 2013 AT&T survey found that 49 percent of adults admitted to texting while driving, six percentage points higher than teenagers, even though 98 percent said they knew it was unsafe.
- Despite electronic device usage while driving going down in 2015 according to the NHTSA, visible manipulation of devices did not decrease at all; it increased among all age groups.
How to Avoid Distracted Driving Accidents
The thing that each of the distractions mentioned have in common is that they are all extremely avoidable. Each distraction brings with it a way to avoid it.
Eating while driving? Make sure you’ve had your meal prior to getting on the road or, barring that, park your car to eat and drink. Similarly, finish getting dressed, applying makeup, and any other personal grooming before driving. Many of these can be solved by making sure you’re not running late, and able to do this before your ride.
Set up your GPS and anything else you need adjusted - radio, temperature, etc. - prior to actually driving. In addition, keep the audio on the GPS up so you don’t have to focus too much on its visuals.
If you are driving with other people, let your passengers handle some of these distractions. They can adjust the radio, take calls, read the GPS, and far more.
When it comes to cell phones, the best option is to simply not use them in any capacity, be it texting, reading, or taking calls. Even hands-free options can leave you distracted. In the event of an emergency, your best choice is to pull over and take the call or text.
In general, don’t be afraid to pull over if a distraction comes into play. That holds true not just for phones, but for if you have children and/or pets in the vehicle. Everyone in the car becomes far safer if you’re not trying to drive and handle a situation at the same time.
Stay Focused on the Road
The most troubling part of distracted driving accidents is how easily preventable they are. It’s easy to assume that we’ve learned how to drive with these distractions, but the statistics prove that it’s simply not the case.
If you understand the dangers of driving while distracted and the ways to prevent it, you give yourself much better chances of a safe experience on the road. Other people driving distracted, however, is out of your control.
And if you’re the victim of an accident caused by someone else’s distractedness, you could be owed compensation for your injuries. To learn more, please fill out our free case evaluation form.