As Distracted Driving Increases, What Should Drivers Know?
Sep 21, 2021 10:34 AM EDT
Sadly, distracted driving claimed more than 3,000 lives in 2019-despite so many state laws that prohibit or even criminalize driving while on the phone. What should drivers know and do to protect themselves against the dangers of distracted driving? Below, we'll discuss some of the biggest factors that contribute to driver distraction, some steps you can take to reduce your risk of being involved in a crash, and steps you should take after a distracted driving accident.
Distracted driving is a fairly broad term, and goes well beyond texting or cell phone use and driving. Instead, distracted driving is any activity that takes your attention away from driving, including:
● Talking, texting, or browsing on your cell phone without using a hands-free device;
● Talking to other people in your vehicle;
● Touching or operating your radio, navigation system, or other items on your vehicle's electronic display;
● Eating, drinking, or smoking; or
● Rifling through your console, glove compartment, or other parts of your vehicle while it's in motion.
Although texting while driving can take one's eyes off the road for a dangerous period of time, engaging in any of the above activities can increase your risk of being involved in a crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving was a reported factor in more than eight percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2019, along with 20 percent of all car accident injuries.
Nearly all states-47, including California and Nevada-have bans on texting while driving. However, there doesn't seem to be a strong correlation between states with strict texting-and-driving laws and those with low distracted driving rates.
For example, Nevada is among the three states with the least distracted drivers, though its distracted driving laws aren't nearly as draconian as other states. A first offense for a Nevada distracted driver will mean only a $50 penalty. On the other hand, New Mexico-the state with the highest number of distracted drivers-also has a partial ban on texting while driving.
California assesses first-time offenders a fine of only $20, while Texas charges drivers between $99 and $250 for the same offense. New York charges $50 to $200 for driving while distracted; Florida is a bit cheaper and begins its fines at $30.
These laws only address cell phone use while driving and don't often account for other forms of driver distraction. Because it can be hard for police officers to prove that a driver's food consumption, makeup application, or other distracting activities are putting other drivers in danger, distracted driving may first become an issue only when the driver is involved in an accident.
There are two prongs to reducing your risk of a distracted driving accident: reducing or eliminating your own distractions while engaged in defensive driving.
● Place your cell phone on "do not disturb" status when you set out on a car trip. This will prevent you from being tempted by the sound of phone calls or text notifications.
● Don't drive while drowsy. If you're feeling tired, pull over into a safe location to rest or even take a nap before continuing on your way.
● Reduce the number of passengers in your vehicle whenever possible. The fewer the passengers, the lower your risk of becoming distracted.
● Don't eat while driving. Not only can this reduce the amount of messiness in your vehicle, but it can also reduce driver inattention.
● Don't try to multitask while driving. If you're in a rush, it can be tempting to add some shortcuts to your morning routine, like putting on makeup or tying a necktie while in traffic, but this multitasking can be more dangerous than it may seem.
Defensive driving is all about anticipating the actions other drivers may take. This means not proceeding through a stop sign or green light until you've made sure all oncoming vehicles are stopped; leaving plenty of space between your vehicle and the surrounding ones, especially while stopping; and steering clear of any drivers you observe swerving, significantly varying their speed, or actively using their cell phone.
Since a distracted driver is less likely to see you than an engaged driver, it's often up to you to see and avoid these drivers yourself. And if a driver is driving in a particularly reckless or negligent way, your best bet may be to call 911 (using a hands-free device, of course).
If you've been injured by a distracted driver, it's important to take action quickly to preserve your legal rights. Even if distracted driving is only a minor infraction in your state, driving distracted and causing injury can subject these drivers to civil liability for your property damage and injuries. An experienced auto accident attorney can work with you to evaluate your potential claim, negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf, and do whatever else it might take to bring your case to the finish line.
Each state has its own statute of limitations for auto accident claims-the time period you have to file a claim. Missing the statute of limitations, which is often as little as one year after the accident, can mean your claim is forever barred even if the defendant's liability is clear. Even the lengthiest personal injury statute of limitations is six years, so waiting too long may limit your legal rights.