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The Dangerous and Deadly Truth about Distracted Driving

by | Apr 15, 2021

While most people intuitively believe that they are safe drivers, the statistics simply do not support this: About eight people die every day in crashes involving a distracted driver in the United States. In 2019 alone, 3,142 accident deaths involved a distracted driver, that’s 9% of the total traffic deaths.

People of all age brackets and demographics justify certain distractions by telling themselves that they’re only looking away for a few seconds. Unfortunately, if we do some basic math, we can see that a few seconds is plenty of time for a horrific accident.

Since the smallest moment of inattention can cause a tragic crash, a distracted driver poses a deadly risk to you, your passengers, and the other drivers.

Why Is Distracted Driving So Dangerous?

It takes a fully attentive driver travelling at 60 miles per hour the length of a football field (roughly 360 feet) to come to a complete stop. This also assumes you’re on a flat road, it’s not raining, and your brakes and tires are in good condition. Remember, three separate events have to happen:

  1. The driver has to cognitively recognize they need to stop,
  2. The driver has to physically react (i.e. push the brake),
  3. The 2,500-pound car has to slow to zero mph.

The space a car requires to decelerate to zero cannot change—It’s just physics. However, the driver’s reaction time can change. In fact, at 60 mph every second added to the driver’s reaction time adds 88 feet to the total stopping distance.

distracted drivers stop distance

A 4-second peek at a phone adds 352 feet, basically doubling the total stopping distance. In effect, you will travel the length of a football field before you even realize you need to react. In a very real way, looking down to read a text, send a Tweet, or like a post is like driving blind. So, it’s easy to see how even a short distraction could easily lead to a tragic accident.

Pro Tip: There are other factors that impact stopping time that we haven’t yet account for. The weather, the slope of the road, extra passengers or heavy cargo, and the conditions of your tires and brakes can all increase the time it takes your vehicle to come to a stop.

What Counts as Distracted Driving?

Too often people equate distracted driving with texting. While 2018 data show that 13% of fatal car crashes involved cellphone use, distracted driving is anything that takes your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, or mind off driving.

The most common definition of distracted driving identifies three broad categories.

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Visual

Visual distractions occur when drivers take their eyes off the road. Common in-car sources of visual distractions are radios, phones, or passengers. As important a problem is focusing on things outside of the car like billboards, accidents, or stopped vehicles.

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Manual

A manual distraction a task that requires the driver to take one or both hands off the wheel. Manual distractions include obvious things like cellphone use, but there are also less-obvious manual distractions like eating, drinking, applying makeup or grooming, and reaching behind or across a seat.

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Cognitive

Every time a driver steps behind the wheel, they take control of a 2,500-pound missile. Focusing on guiding that missile is critical to avoid seriously injuring or killing others on the road. Daydreaming, lively conversations on the phone or with passengers, and any other activity that draws your mind away from the task at hand is a cognitive distraction.

As you probably have noticed, many activities fit into more than one of these broader categories. These compound distractions are particularly dangerous as they severely limit the physical and mental attention you are giving to driving.

10 Common Compound Distractions

When you step into a car, there are multiple elements competing for attention. This is especially true for younger drivers, who are more connected to their phones, or in newer vehicles, which have touch screens and other gadgets.

Regardless of who you are, identifying your various sources of driving distractions is critical so you can take extra care not to engage in them.

These 10 distractions are more common than others:

  1. Texting and Using Social Media Apps like Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.
  2. Holding and Talking on the Phone.
  3. Eating, Drinking, Smoking, and Similar Activities.
  4. Applying Makeup, Fixing Hair, or Changing Clothes.
  5. Reaching for Something in the Glovebox, on the Floor, or Behind the Seat.
  6. Using the Radio, CD Player, GPS, or Other In-Car Technology.
  7. Talking to Passengers or Interacting with Children.
  8. Holding, Calming, or Petting an Animal.
  9. Rubbernecking at Accidents or People Watching.
  10. Daydreaming and Fantasizing.

Teen and Young Adult Drivers at Higher Risk

It will come as no surprise, perhaps, that younger drivers, especially teens, are more susceptible to distracted driving. NHSTA data from 2018 show that drivers aged 15–29 accounted for 34% of distracted-driving related fatalities. And CDC data from the same year state that motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for teens in the U.S.

On the one hand, this is a product of the rise of smartphones and social media among younger Millennials and Gen Z, which has increased the number of distractions in cars. But, on the other hand, younger drivers simply lack the experience of older drivers, and they are more prone to take risks writ large.

These statistics also show that distracted driving is nearly or just as dangerous as drunk or impaired driving.

cost of distracted driving v drunk driving

Reframing distracted driving as more akin to drunk driving, can help highlight the dangers and its very real emotional and economic costs.

Pro Tip: Many states have passed distracted driving laws to curb these risky behaviors. Here in Florida, the 2019 Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law (Fl. Stat. 316.305) made a primary traffic offense to text while driving. This means police can pull over and ticket drivers for texting. The new law is sure to have large impacts on car accident claims as well.

Whenever you step behind the wheel, be sure to model good driving techniques for your kids and remind your teenage drivers how to arrive alive:

  • Turn off cellphones and other electronic devices.
  • Enable the built-in “Do Not Disturb” feature or use another distracted driving app.
  • Use the vehicle’s hands-free technology options to make or answer calls.
  • Remind passengers (or the driver if you’re the passenger) that you need to focus on the road.
  • Plan your route ahead of time to avoid jams and frustration.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

Even a momentary lapse in attention can be disastrous when you’re behind the wheel. Not only are distracted drivers more likely to cause an accident, they are also less likely to be able to avoid an accident. Promoting and practicing safe driving habits is critical to keeping our roads safe.

If you or your teenager driver is unlucky enough to be injured by a negligent, distracted driver, we can help. You have the right to hold the negligent parties accountable and to receive compensation for your damages.

Don’t let an aggressive insurance company force you into accepting less than you deserve. The personal injury lawyers here at Personal Injury & Accident Law Center would love to speak to you about your case and tell you how we can help you get on the path to recovery. Call us today at (561)372-3800 to schedule a free case evaluation or fill out the confidential form below and a team member will contact you soon.

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