According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 421,000 Americans sustained injuries in 2012 due to accidents caused by a distracted driver. Additionally, 3,328 individuals tragically lost their lives because a driver was distracted. These numbers are alarming, especially since distracted driving is almost completely preventable in the majority of situations, and experts refer to distracted driving as a significant public health problem in the United States. In fact, the federal government has a division devoted to combating the distracted driving epidemic through education about the risks.
Distracted drivers should be held accountable for their careless actions. Fortunately, Pennsylvania tort laws allow victims of auto accidents to recover from any party who acted in a negligent manner to cause their injuries. In many cases, victims can recover significant compensation for their losses, which can include medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and physical and emotional pain and suffering.
Categories of Driving Distractions
According to the CDC and other organizations, there are three primary categories of dangerous driving distractions:
- VISUAL – any activity that causes you to take your eyes from the road ahead of you
- MANUAL – any activity that causes you to take your hands away from the steering wheel
- COGNITIVE – any activity that takes your mental focus off of driving
Many activities fit more than one category, making them even more dangerous. For example, reaching for a cell phone and dialing a number will take your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road, so this would be classified as a visual-manual distraction.
Common Dangerous Distractions
Though most drivers are fully aware of the dangers of distracted driving, they continue to engage in a wide variety of potentially risky activities while behind the wheel on a regular basis. Some of the most common forms of driver distractions include the following:
- Eating or drinking
- Placing a voice call or talking on the phone
- Adjusting the radio or music system
- Listening to audiobooks or podcasts
- Attending to passengers in the back seat
- Holding a conversation with a passenger
- Using a handheld mobile device to read or send messages
- Browsing the internet
- Setting a GPS
- Reading (either electronically or in print)
- Applying makeup
- Other personal grooming
While some of these activities may seem relatively harmless, even the slightest distraction for a fraction of a second may be enough to cause a serious collision and result in devastating injuries. Many drivers do not realize that listening to an audiobook or simply talking to a passenger may significantly distract their focus from the road until it is too late. Drivers may additionally believe that hands-free technology will make using their mobile phone safe, though experts report it is still quite risky due to cognitive distractions.
Texting and Technology
With the surge in mobile personal technology over the last two decades, the main focus of anti-distracted driving advocacy groups has been on technological communications while driving. First, the focus was on stopping drivers from talking on their cell phones behind the wheel. However, soon a more concerning activity took primary focus.
Texting is widely considered to be the most dangerous of all driving distractions. The term “texting” is used to generally refer to a variety of actions on any type of interactive wireless communication device (IWCD), which can include cell phones, smart phones, personal digital assistants, tablets, portable computers, or any related technological devices. Texting can generally include any of the following:
- Text messages or iMessages
- Instant messaging over Facebook or other websites
- Typing information into a web browser or search engine
- Any other type of text-based communication on a mobile device
Texting not only refers to the composition of one of the above messages by a driver, but also to reading incoming messages on a mobile device.
Texting is a top concern when it comes to distracted driving because both reading and writing messages involves all three categories of distraction—visual, manual, and cognitive. According to facts listed on Distraction.gov, it takes approximately five seconds for the average driver to read or send a message. This means that a driver traveling a speed of 55 miles per hour would drive 100 yards—the length of an entire football field—without looking at the road.
Despite the alarming risks of this type of distraction, and despite state laws making texting and driving illegal, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that at at given time during the day, an estimated 600,000 drivers in the United States are texting or otherwise using cell phones from behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
Recovering After an Accident With a Distracted Driver
Victims of distracted driving accidents can suffer catastrophic injuries that require extensive medical treatment and recovery time. During this period of recovery, the victim may likely be unable to work, attend school, or participate in everyday activities as usual. Some victims are left permanently disabled or disfigured and never return to life as they knew it prior to the accident. In these cases, a victim’s medical conditions could even require that they receive expensive around-the-clock medical care. Even if a victim suffers relatively minor injuries in an accident, he or she may still face substantial losses related to medical bills, lost wages, and more.
Victims who suffer losses due to the negligence of another person have the legal right to recover for those losses by filing a personal injury claim against the responsible party. In order to prevail, you must sufficiently prove the negligence of the defendant by using evidence to negotiate a settlement or by presenting such evidence to the court at trial. Collecting and presenting evidence is governed by strict rules, and each court has its own particular and often complicated procedures. Fortunately for victims, simply showing that a driver caused an accident due to his or her distraction is sufficient to establish legal liability, meaning that in many cases people who are injured by distracted drivers can recover for their injuries and other losses.