Distracted Driving: A Recipe for Disaster in California

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Distracted driving is a common threat on our nation's roads. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving is reported in approximately 20 percent of motor vehicle crashes that result in injury. Of course, after an accident, driver distraction is often difficult to detect and thus may go unreported; one study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that as many as 80 percent of crashes involve some form of driver distraction.

Although there are many forms of driver distraction, the use of cell phones and other electronic devices behind the wheel has become one of the most pervasive in recent years. California has implemented a series of state laws have been enacted to help combat distracted driving caused by the use of handheld mobile devices.

Although these laws have cut down on distracted driving when combined with strenuous enforcement and educational efforts, they have not eliminated the problem. Lives are still being changed by careless drivers. When that happens, many people need the help of a San Francisco personal injury lawyer to hold the negligent parties accountable.

Types of Distraction

There are three broad categories of driver distraction: visual, cognitive and manual. Visual distraction is taking your eyes off the road. Similarly, cognitive distraction is taking your mind off the road. Manual distraction is removing your hands from the wheel.

There are innumerable driver distractions that can put motorists in danger. Cell phone use, whether for talking or texting, is perhaps the most well-known, and it is indeed one of the leading causes of distracted driving crashes. Texting behind the wheel is particularly dangerous, as it involves all three categories of driver distraction.

In addition to cell phone use, reaching for an object, looking at an object or event outside the vehicle, reading, and applying makeup are the top distracted driving activities that cause accidents. Other common behind the wheel distractions include eating and drinking, talking to passengers, and manipulating the controls of vehicle audio systems.

Californians at Risk

As of 2011, California transportation officials blame distracted driving for over 600 deaths annually. Just a decade ago, only 300 deaths in the state were attributable to driver distraction. So what has changed?

"Yelling at the kids in the backseat, dropping something, eating, putting on makeup, has been around forever," Chris Cochran of the California Office of Transportation Safety told ABC News, "but what has really changed that is just in the last five to 10 years is the use of mobile devices."

The proliferation of handheld electronic communication devices is particularly hazardous for younger drivers. According to a Pew Research Center report on distracted driving, adults ages 18 to 33 are by far the most likely to admit to texting while driving: 59 percent of those polled in this age group said they had texted behind the wheel. In the Pew report, slightly more than a quarter of teens admitted to driving and texting, almost identical to the percentage of U.S. adults of all ages who acknowledged they had committed the risky behavior. But, the effects of distraction are amplified for inexperienced teenage drivers: vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-20 year olds. And, as teens return to school, they put in more time both behind the wheel and communicating with classmates, making the fall a particularly dangerous time on the road.

Mitigating Distracted Driving Dangers in California

In California, both texting and handheld cell phone use are unlawful for all drivers. In addition, for novice drivers under the age of 18, all cell phone use is prohibited, including hands-free use.

There is emerging evidence that such legal restrictions can be a powerful tool in the fight against distracted driving. In July of 2011, the NHTSA released the results of a study that examined two high visibility enforcement and public education campaigns conducted in jurisdictions with strong driver cell phone laws similar to California's. In one locale, the campaigns resulted in an overall decrease of 32 percent in both handheld phone use and texting by drivers, while the other saw 57 percent and 72 percent reductions in handheld cell phone use and texting, respectively.

Of course, while disseminating information about distracted driving and doling out tickets to those who violate cell phone bans is a step in the right directions, some drivers still are not getting the message. Whatever the reason for distracted driving, whether it is overconfidence, a lapse into bad habits or simple indifference to roadway safety, inattention can quickly result in a motor vehicle accident.

Drivers who negligently cause an accident may be held responsible for any resulting injury. An attorney can help you recover the compensation you deserve, and will allow you to discourage distracted driving by demanding accountability from negligent drivers. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident and suspect driver distraction may have been a factor, get in touch with an experienced car accident lawyer today.