“Distracted Driving Awareness Month” highlights risks on California roads

April is national “Distracted Driving Awareness Month,” and both the federal government and the state of California are taking advantage of the media attention to drive home the numerous risks associated with the dangerous practice of distracted driving. The U.S. government, particularly the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is well aware of the dangers of driving while distracted, which is why it maintains the Distraction.Gov website, full of facts, statistics and state-level regulations aimed at combating the problem.California’s legislature has taken notice of the distracted driving issue as well, and is committed to getting the word out about the dangers through the California Office of Traffic Safety’s “Cellphones and texting, it’s not worth it” campaign. Furthermore, the state has passed laws prohibiting the use of handheld cellphones and texting while driving. Both are primary offenses, meaning that you can be pulled over solely for that purpose, and both come with a fine of nearly $200 (according to the Office of Traffic Safety). In addition, both bus drivers and “novice” drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use cellphones at all while behind the wheel, regardless of whether they are handheld or hands-free.

The hands-free conundrum

Many states, California included, assume that by only allowing the use of hands-free cellphones, they are making their residents safer. Unfortunately, studies around the country have shown that hands-free communications, particularly speech-to-text text messaging or emailing, is just as hazardous, if not more hazardous, than doing the same thing manually. Several different studies came to the same conclusion: from a cognitive standpoint, it is just as distracting to formulate responses internally and express them verbally as it would be to express them manually via texting or sending an email.

In fact, it has been theorized that hands-free texting and emailing is could be more hazardous than doing it by hand, because drivers will get a false sense of security from their hands-free device and may then try to add in additional, distracting tasks while behind the wheel. Hands-free talking or texting could also result in a phenomenon known as “inattention blindness,” something that can easily lead to injury-causing car accidents. Essentially, your brain is so focused on the words and conversation that it doesn’t notice things right in front of you, which, if you are driving, may include other cars, the roadway, changing weather conditions or pedestrians.

Sobering statistics

According to information provided by the Centers for Disease Control, every day nine people die and more than 1,000 are hurt in accidents involving distracted driving. That breaks down to a death every 2.6 hours and 44 injuries each hour, and it happens every single day of the year. In 2011 alone (the most recent year for which the CDC released information), distracted driving caused 387,000 injuries and more than 3,330 deaths.

Reaching out if you have been hurt

Given the high rate of distracted driving-related accidents, chances are good that you or a loved one could be injured in one. If that should happen, the at-fault driver’s insurance company – or even your own company, if the driver is uninsured or underinsured – will likely try to settle with you quickly, and for a lower amount than you may need to cover your injuries. Don’t let that happen: if you have been injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

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