It causes the deaths of about nine people each day in the United States, and results in injuries to about a thousand more. The yearly death toll across the nation is more than 3,000, and hundreds of thousands are injured. It affects every age group, but the youngest drivers among us are particularly susceptible. It can be anything: your cell phone, your music, your passenger, a billboard.
Distracted driving is a major problem, and a hazard not only for drivers and their passengers but for pedestrians and bicyclists as well.
If you were injured in an accident that a distracted driver caused, you may be eligible to collect compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced car accident attorney can help you understand the process.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving includes anything that diverts your attention away from the task of driving safely. There are three types of distractions to drivers, including:
- Visual distractions, which draw your eyes from the road.
- Manual distractions, which cause you to take your hands from the steering wheel.
- Cognitive distractions, which draw your mind away from driving.
Some activities provide more than one type of driving distraction. Texting, for example, involves all three types, as drivers take their eyes off the road to read messages, take their hands off the wheel to reply to messages, and take their focus away from safe driving to concentrate on the text.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it takes about five seconds for a person to read or reply to a text. During those five seconds, when traveling at 55 miles per hour, a person has driven the length of a football field without looking at the road, steering with both hands, or thinking about their safety and the safety of others.
While texting is perhaps the most alarming of driving distractions, it is certainly not the only thing that can provide a distraction for drivers. Others include:
- Talking on the phone
- Browsing the internet or social media
- Eating or drinking
- Applying makeup
- Visiting with other passengers
- Adjusting vehicle or stereo controls
- Reaching for an object on the floor of the car or in the back seat
- People in other vehicles
- Construction zones
- Previous accidents or activity along the roadway
Don’t People Know Texting and Driving Is Dangerous?
Truthfully, yes. Most people are aware that texting and other distractions while driving are dangerous. So why do they still do it? A PBS report gives some insight into the reasons:
- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): Drivers are so afraid that something interesting is going to happen online or with the person that they’re texting that they refuse to put down the phone to prevent a crash.
- Overconfidence: 90 percent of drivers believe that their driving skills are better than other drivers. This overconfidence can lead to a person thinking that they are so safe at driving, that their reflexes and reactions are so superior, that they can afford to take risks.
- Recency bias: You’ve texted while driving a hundred times before and nothing happened. Why would anything happen this time?
The worst drivers, the report noted, are the phone addicts who are on their phones about thirty percent of the time while driving. A recent study revealed that about one out of every 12 drivers fits into this category. While all forms of distracted driving tend to go unreported, it is estimated that about one-quarter of all traffic accidents involve a driver who is using his or her cell phone.
How Does Florida’s Law Protect People From Distracted Drivers?
In a four-year timeframe, Florida law enforcement personnel reported more than 41,000 crashes each year that were caused by distracted driving. The most common source of driver distraction in those crashes was driver inattention. The other common causes include:
- Other occupants of the vehicle
- Distractions outside of the vehicle
- Electronic communication devices (cell phone)
- Other electronic devices, such as navigational systems or stereos
In 2019, Florida passed its Wireless Communications While Driving law. The law was designed to reduce the number of accidents caused in the state by drivers who are using their cell phones to text, talk, type, or browse. There are two components of this new law, including:
- Law enforcement is permitted to stop a driver who they witness texting and driving, regardless of whether they are exhibiting other dangerous driving behaviors. It is now illegal to operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, symbols, or numbers in a wireless communication device used to text, email, or send an instant message.
- The use of hand-held wireless communication devices is prohibited in school or work zones where there are construction workers present or equipment either on the roadway or directly adjacent to it.
For texting and driving, drivers face a non-moving traffic violation with a fine of $30 but no points assessed against the license for the first offense. A second offense within five years will result in a moving traffic violation, a $60 fine, and three points assessed against the driver’s license. For use of a hand-held wireless communication device in a school or work zone, any offense will result in a fine of at least $60, a moving violation, and three points assessed against the driver’s license.
Exceptions to the texting and driving portion of the law include:
- The performance of one’s duties as a law enforcement officer, emergency services personnel, or firefighter.
- Reporting an emergency or criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement.
- Receiving messages that are necessary for the safe operation of the motor vehicle, including emergency, traffic, or weather alerts, as well as data used primarily by the motor vehicle.
- Using the device’s GPS app for navigation purposes.
- Conducting wireless personal communication that doesn’t require manually typing letters, numbers, or symbols.
- Conducting wireless communication that does not require reading text except to activate, deactivate, or initiate the communication.
The work or school zone portion of the law provides similar exceptions, as well as the ability to use the device in hands-free, voice operated mode, or when operating the vehicle in autonomous mode.
The Dangers of Youth and Distractions
Because of their inexperience and brains that are still developing the skills that are needed for safe driving, teens already have a higher risk of becoming involved in an accident than older drivers. Distractions do nothing to improve this statistic. Distraction is a key factor in an estimated 58 percent of crashes involving drivers aged 16 to 19. Texting and driving increases the likelihood of getting into an accident by about 26 times. About 9 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths involving teen drivers were due to distracted driving.
Studies indicate that approximately 40 percent of teen drivers have sent or received a text while driving in the past month. Teen drivers who reported texting more frequently were also more likely to be involved in other risky driving behaviors such as drinking and driving, riding as a passenger with a driver who has been drinking, and failing to wear a seat belt. Cell phone use—including texting, talking, social media, and the use of music or GPS apps—reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.
While texting is a big player when it comes to teen driving distractions, one that is also dangerous is having other passengers in the car. Having two or more peer passengers in the vehicle triples a teen driver’s risk of a fatal crash. Male teen drivers with teen passengers in their car are six times more likely to perform an illegal driving maneuver and are also two times more likely to drive aggressively than male teens who do not have teen passengers in the car. Aggressive driving includes speeding, failing to yield, following too closely, and other driving practices that increase the likelihood of an accident.
Can Distracted Driving Accidents Be Prevented?
Yes, most distracted driving accidents can be prevented. Follow these tips to keep yourself and your passengers safer on the roadway:
- Do not text and drive. Ever. If you need to answer a text, do so before you get behind the wheel or wait until you are safely stopped.
- Model good driving behaviors for your children with the realization that they will often exhibit these same behaviors when they become drivers. Good driving behaviors include putting down the phone, avoiding deep conversations while driving that could draw your mind away from the roadway, and not eating or drinking while behind the wheel. Teens are two to four times more likely to drive distracted if their parents drive distracted. One of the most important things to teach your teen driver is that safe driving takes priority over anything else that might be going on.
- Do not be afraid to speak up if you are a passenger in a car with a distracted driver. While you may be accused of “back seat driving,” that is preferable to getting into an accident.
- Ensure that children and pets are properly restrained in the back seat before you take to the roadway, as each provides distractions that could result in an accident. Even adults stand to benefit by limiting the number of passengers in the car and requiring respect for the serious task of driving from these passengers.
- Do your multitasking outside of your vehicle. The amount of information that a person can process at any given time is limited, and—when driving—the information being processed should involve driving safely and avoiding hazards. That work email can wait. The grocery list can wait. Scheduling appointments, browsing your social media page, or applying makeup can wait.
- Your cell phone should be used only in emergencies. Ideally, you will find a safe spot to pull over before using it.
How a Car Accident Lawyer Can Help
If you were injured in an accident involving a distracted driver, your first source of compensation for your expenses will come from the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance policy that Florida required from you to register your vehicle in Florida. This policy will cover 80 percent of medical expenses up to your policy limit, as well as 60 percent of wages lost because you were too injured to work, or you were forced to miss work to attend doctor’s appointments for your injuries.
The policy has a death benefit as well, and all benefits are provided not only to you but to others in your household who are named on your policy, and other passengers in your car who are not covered by their own PIP policy.
If your injuries meet the state’s serious injury threshold, you may be eligible to obtain compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. The serious injury threshold includes:
- Injuries that result in significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury, within a reasonable degree of medical probability, except scarring and disfigurement
- Significant and permanent scarring and disfigurement
If your injuries satisfy the serious injury threshold, you may be able to claim additional damages beyond medical bills and lost wages. You may also be able to claim property damages, as well as “pain and suffering” type damages to address the impacts that your injuries have on your life.
To obtain a successful outcome to your personal injury claim, you must be able to establish liability through the following elements:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. In cases involving distracted driving, that duty of care would likely be something to the effect of driving safely and lawfully.
- There was a breach in the duty of care. The breach would be inattentiveness or distraction, which are unsafe and—in some cases—unlawful driving behaviors.
- The breach in the duty of care caused the accident that resulted in your injuries.
Litigating a personal injury claim is often complex, and often requires the attention of an experienced personal injury attorney. A car accident lawyer experienced with distracted driving accident cases can help you understand your options, and help develop a plan for moving forward.