Having breakfast on the go or returning a quick text message behind the wheel may seem minor, but as many as 5000 people each year die in auto accidents as a result of distracted driving.
Understanding what constitutes this dangerous behavior will help you avoid becoming another statistic.
The Three Primary Types of Distractions
The U.S. Department of Transportation classifies driving distractions in three primary categories: manual, visual and cognitive.
A manual driving distraction is anything that removes your hands from the wheel while you are driving. The manual distraction most prominent in the media over the past few years is texting while driving. However, several other activities commonly performed in cars can also create a danger. Eating or drinking in the car requires removing at least one hand from the wheel, and even though skipping a song on your MP3 player may seem harmless, the distraction could be the cause of a deadly car accident.
Visual driving distractions often overlap with manual ones. Sending a text or skipping a song not only takes your hands off the wheel, but also your eyes off the road. Ironically, something necessary like checking a map or GPS system can also cause a dangerous visual distraction. Technology even offers drivers the opportunity to watch videos while behind the wheel. As counterintuitive as this might seem, it unfortunately does happen, taking distracted driving to a new and even more dangerous level.
Cognitive driving distractions are a bit more difficult to pinpoint, but just as problematic in terms of safety. Simply having your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road isn’t quite enough. If your attention is on a conversation, either with someone else in the car or on a cell phone, you may not be able to react quickly to a sudden stop or other unexpected event.
Driving may be an everyday occurrence for most Americans, but the unfortunate side effect of this is that many drivers take their responsibility far too casually. In a fast-paced world, multitasking is practically required. Behind the wheel, however, is not a safe place to catch up on meals or conversations.
Distracted Driving Auto Accident Statistics
No matter how confident you feel in your driving abilities, everyone is susceptible to the dangers of distracted driving. In fact, a 2006 study by psychologists at the University of Utah proved that if you’re going to talk on your cell phone behind the wheel, you may as well be driving drunk.
Researchers used a driving simulator to test reaction times. They found that drivers on cell phones, even those utilizing hands-free devices, performed at the same level as someone attempting to drive with a .08 blood alcohol content level. In other words, if driving distraction could be measured biologically, all drivers on cell phones would be prosecuted for driving under the influence.
Unfortunately, instances of distracted driving are going up, not down. Between 2005 and 2009 auto accident fatalities that could be attributed to distractions went up over 6%. Around 20% of car wrecks involving injury in 2009 were the fault of a driver whose attention wasn’t on the road.
If these trends continue, those numbers are likely even more frightening today.
In light of the serious danger caused by distracted drivers, laws are being updated to enact severe penalties on those found endangering others for the sake of expediency. While the timeline to establish these laws is different from state to state, laws banning text messaging and using hand-held cell phones while driving are becoming more common.
As research continues to point to the causes and dangers of distraction, laws to prevent auto accidents can be expected to grow and be backed by harsher penalties. Your best course of action, then, is to eliminate distractions and keep your eyes and mind on the road.
If you’ve been in an accident where the other driver was distracted, you may be entitled to legal compensation for your injuries and time off from work. The best way to find out is to discuss your situation with a car accident attorney in your local area. Keep meticulous records of the incident and your expenses to ensure you receive the compensation you need.