Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving Accidents

The leading cause of accidental death for children and young adults aged 5-24, according to the CDC, is motor vehicle accidents. For all other age groups older than 1, it is the second leading cause of death, with accidental drowning the leading cause of death for toddlers and preschoolers, and unintentional poisoning - largely from drug overdose - the leading cause of death in adults aged 25 to 64.

Auto accidents kill approximately 34,000 people each year in the United States. In Oklahoma, 668 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2013, and 33,721 were injured.

With so many Oklahomans being hurt or dying in crashes, it is important to take a look at the causes of these accidents. Certainly, alcohol is involved in a large percentage of fatal crashes, but alcohol use is not the leading cause of crashes in general. Instead, driver distraction is at the root of most accidents.

What is Distracted Driving?

We live in an age of technology and multi-tasking, and these things often combine to create dangerous driving behaviors. However, not all distracted driving is related to texting, cell phone use, or other types of electronic distraction. Instead, distraction can be much more innocuous.

On its website at distraction.gov, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as "any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving." Driver distractions may include eating or drinking while driving, paying attention to other people or animals in the car, applying makeup while driving, rubbernecking or looking at things outside of the vehicle, reading maps or GPS devices, adjusting radios or other electronics, and even simple daydreaming.

Whenever a driver is not giving his or her full attention to the task of safe driving, he or she may be considered a distracted driver. There are three types of distraction which divert a driver's attention from safe and defensive driving:

  • Cognitive distraction, in which a driver's mind is on something else. Cognitive distraction may include daydreaming, talking with other passengers, or having a conversation on a hands-free cell phone.
  • Manual distraction, in which a driver takes his or her hands off the wheel. This may include reaching for dropped objects, eating or drinking, or changing the volume or station on a car stereo.
  • Visual distraction, in which a driver takes his or her eyes off the road. Visual distraction can include looking at objects or people inside the vehicle or looking at objects or people outside the vehicle. Ironically, billboards that discourage distracted driving may themselves be a form of distraction.

Distracted driving can lead to minor fender benders or catastrophic collisions. Often, the severity of the accident is directly related to the degree of distraction. Mulling over a mental to-do list instead of paying attention to the roadway can cause a driver to miss traffic signals or not notice a turning vehicle until it is too late to stop. Sometimes, when two or more of the three types of distraction are at play, the driver takes no evasive action until a life-changing collision is unavoidable.

Cell Phones and Driving

Talking on a cell phone while driving involves varying degrees of distraction. From the visual distraction of dialing the phone to the cognitive distraction of engaging in a conversation, using a cell phone while driving diverts a driver's attention from the roadway, pedestrians, and other vehicles.

The NHTSA reports that 18% of distraction-related fatality accidents involve a cell phone.

Some people believe that using a hands-free device to carry on a cell phone conversation while driving is a safe alternative. However, present research shows that, because of the cognitive distraction involved, hands-free cell phone while driving is still risky behavior.

Additionally, cell phones now are likely to be smartphones, which allow not only voice calls and texting, but also GPS, email, and internet capabilities. These types of distraction can prove to be too much temptation for the busy, the multi-tasking, and the socially-minded teens and young adults who use their smartphones while driving.

Texting While Driving

If distracted driving were anthropomorphized, texting while driving would be the poster child. This is because reading or sending a text while driving creates all three types of distraction: cognitive distraction as the driver thinks about the message, visual distraction as he or she reads or types a message, and manual distraction as he or she handles the mobile device. With this degree of distraction, the consequences can be deadly.

Research shows that a driver's actions while texting mimic the behaviors of a drunk driver and the NHTSA's visual cues for detecting DUI:

  • Inability to maintain lane position
  • Inability to maintain consistent speed
  • Failure to notice traffic signs or signals
  • Running off the road
  • Drifting across lanes
  • Nearly hitting other vehicles or stationary objects

While people are constantly warned of the dangers of texting while driving, it seems that many drivers think that these warnings are intended for other drivers, and that they themselves are able to safely text and drive. Such drivers put not only themselves, but others at risk when they choose to text and drive.

Oklahoma Distracted Driving Laws

In Oklahoma, there is no specific law banning cell phone use or texting while driving by anyone other than public transportation drivers. Numerous efforts to pass such legislation have been repeatedly rejected. Opponents of the texting while driving laws say that such behavior is already prohibited by state laws against distracted driving in general:

The operator of every vehicle, while driving, shall devote their full time and attention to such driving.

No law enforcement officer shall issue a citation under this section unless the law enforcement officer observes that the operator of the vehicle is involved in an accident or observes the operator of the vehicle driving in such a manner that poses an articulable danger to other persons on the roadway that is not otherwise specified in statute. (47 O.S. § 11-901b)

For those injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, a citation after the fact may seem like little justice.

Oklahoma Accident Lawyer

Being critically injured or losing a loved one in an automobile accident is devastating enough, but when grief is accompanied by the futility of the loss, it can create an overwhelming sense of frustration. Contact a lawyer to find out how you can achieve financial compensation for your expenses and losses following an accident caused by a distracted driver.

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