No one who has ever driven a car is a stranger to distracted driving. Pretty much every single driver out there has driven while distracted at some point. Making adjustments to you climate controls, fiddling with your sound system, even eating some fast-food take-out – it is all distracted driving. Because everyone does it, and almost everyone does so without any serious consequences, many people tend to downplay the risks associated with distracted driving. Just because you have not been harmed by distracted driving, though, just means it has not happened yet. You have probably never been hit by lightning, either, but deaths and injuries from distracted driving are far more common than being hit by lightning. If you are on the road, you are at risk.
Distracted Driving is Deadly
More than 2,800 people died in the United States in 2018 in traffic accidents involving distracted drivers, and that number only reflects the number that we know about. Countless other accidents may have been caused by distracted driving but not reported as such. Another 400,000 people were injured in such accidents. Roughly 20% of those deaths were among people who were not even in a vehicle on the road – they were pedestrians, bicycle riders, or just close enough to a roadway to be killed in a traffic accident.
Many people may have a misconception regarding what constitutes distracted driving. They probably are quite certain that the things they do while driving do not distract them. The fact is, research shows that any activity that takes your attention away from the road — whether that is talking on your phone, eating or drinking, messing with your sound, navigation, or entertainment system, texting, or even just talking to other people in your vehicle — constitutes distracted driving. Texting is the worst, or course, as reading or sending a typical text takes your eyes off the road for at least five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that is enough time to drive about 100 yards, sort of like driving the length of a football field at high speed with your eyes closed.
- Visual distractions, including anything that takes your eyes off the road
- Manual distractions, consisting of any activity that takes your hands off the wheel
- Cognitive distractions, which take your attention away from driving. This could include daydreaming or any other form of thinking about something other than driving
Naturally, using a cell phone gets the most attention from the government, with 48 states, Washington, D.C., and several U.S. territories having passed laws making it illegal to text while driving as well as requiring hands-free equipment even to talk on a cell phone while driving. Georgia has addressed cell phone use while driving, as well. State law prohibits:
- Drivers younger than 18 years old from using a cell phone at all while driving
- School bus drivers from using a cell phone while loading or unloading passengers, or while the bus is moving
- All drivers from texting while driving a vehicle
Naturally, laws governing distracted driving are not perfect. Distracted driving is by definition negligence, already punishable under state laws if you cause a traffic accident. Significant research indicates that using hands-free cell phone systems actually is more distracting than just putting the cell phone to your ear because of the distraction from the hands-free systems themselves. Setting that aside, distracted driving is a problem and a significant contributor to many traffic accidents.