Distracted Driving Accidents


Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is defined as any activity that diverts attention away from driving, such as talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.

A distracted driver endangers everyone else on the road because they are unable to devote their full attention to driving. Distracted driving is one of the most common causes of auto accidents across the United States, claiming 3,142 lives in 2019. 


Distracted Driving Accidents

Distracted driving can increase the risk of car, truck, SUV, and motorbike accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicle accidents are the greatest cause of mortality for Americans aged 8 to 34, killing one person every 12 to 15 minutes and injuring more than 2.5 million each year.

There are numerous ways that a driver might be distracted. Driving requires the synchronisation of your sight and reflexes, and anything that diverts your attention away from the road or takes your hands off the steering wheel is considered a driving distraction. You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing. Some of the most common distractions include:

  • Cell phone use
  • Texting
  • Eating or drinking 
  • Talking to people in the vehicle
  • Using devices/controls to operate the vehicle
  • Programming a navigation or sound device 
  • Smoking
  • Reading
  • Applying makeup
  • Reaching for a cup, phone, or  fallen object
  • Watching videos
  • Adjusting music/songs/volume/features

Cell Phone Driving

Major Cause of Accidents

Using a cell phone while driving creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. While Los Angeles County has made it a point to enforce some of the strictest policies regarding cell phone use and texting in the United States, many drivers continue to lose their lives from accidents involving distracted drivers. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. Using a cell phone while driving can delay a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of 0.08 percent. The rapid increase in popularity of smartphones has only exacerbated the situation, with many people not only having conversations while driving but also reading and responding to texts and emails while driving.

Due to an increase in the number of motor vehicle accidents caused by cellphone usage and texting, despite strong regulations prohibiting the use of smartphones, California is raising the penalty associated with the violation. The initial fine of $125 for a first-time cellphone violation has been increased to $150. Second-time offenders may expect to pay $300 instead of the original $250. If you are caught a third time, you will be charged a $500 fine, a $100 increase from the previous amount.

Teenage Inexperience

Teenagers' inexperience behind the wheel makes them more susceptible to being distracted while driving. Research carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Admission (NHTSA) found that one in three teens who drive admit to texting while driving. Approximately 3,500 teenagers alone were involved in fatal accidents due to distracted driving in 2012. Further research has found that dialing a phone number while driving increases a teenager's risk of crashing by 6 times, and texting while driving increases the risk by 23 times. Talking or texting on the phone takes your teen's focus off the task of driving, and significantly reduces their ability to react to a roadway hazard, incident, or inclement weather.

Avoiding distracted driving 

While you may not think you are engaging in distracted driving, many drivers do it on a daily basis without being aware. Avoiding distractions while driving has the potential to save thousands of lives. Please consider the following: 

  • Never type on your phone while driving. No text or message is more important than your own or someone else's life.
  • Organize your music and navigation system before driving.
  • Try not to talk on the phone while driving. If you have an emergency, always use a hands-free device.

How we can help

If you have been involved in a car accident involving a driver who was talking on their cell phone, texting, or was otherwise distracted, you may have a personal injury case if you can prove that the collision was caused by the driver of the other vehicle. You may be entitled to loss of income, property damage, medical bills, and pain and suffering. Auto accident claims can be highly complex therefore you need a law firm such as ours, with extensive experience and the resources to handle such cases and maximize your recovery.

Contact Taschner Law today for a Free Consultation or and see how we can help!

Distracted Driving (published under GNU Wikipedia License):


Cellular device use while behind the wheel is one of the most common forms of distracted driving. According to the United States Department of Transportation, "texting while driving creates a crash risk 23 times higher than driving while not distracted." Studies and polls regularly find that over 30% of United States drivers had recently texted and driven. Distracted driving is particularly common among, but not exclusive to, younger drivers

Types of Distracted Driving

Distractions while driving can be separated into three distinct groups: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions involve taking one's eyes off the road, such as looking at a GPS system, looking at roadside billboards, or checking a child's seat belt in the rear view mirror. Manual distractions involve taking one's hands off the wheel, such as searching for something in a bag, eating or drinking, grooming, or changing radio stations. Cognitive distractions occur when an individual is not mentally focused on the act of driving. Some distractions can combine some or all of these groups, such as texting and calling on one's cell phone.

Driving distractions can greatly vary in form and severity. They range from the use of cell phones and other electronics to rubbernecking, carrying passengers including children and pets in the vehicle, eating while driving, sexual activity while driving and searching for misplaced items.


Distraction Rates

A 2016 study found that nearly 50 percent of drivers admitted to, while driving, reading a text message, sending a text message, checking their phone for directions, or using social media. Overall, nearly 60 percent of respondents admitted to using their cell phone at least once while driving. Older age was strongly correlated with decreased cell phone distraction scores.

A 2018 survey of more than 3,300 drivers by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety illustrates a disconnect in driver behavior. While a large percentage of drivers (95.6%) said texting or emailing while driving is unacceptable, nearly half (49%) report talking on a hand-held device and nearly 35% have sent a text or an email while driving.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) discovered that 35 to 50 percent of drivers admit to using a smartphone while driving and 90 percent of drivers fear those who do.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2011 study found that 69% of respondent drivers between the ages of 18 and 64 admitted to calling on the phone while driving in the month before the survey and that 31% sent or read an email or text message.

Harris Poll survey showed differences in distracted driving by United States region with 24 percent frequency in the Northeast, 28 percent in the Midwest, 30 percent in the West, and 35 percent in the South. 4% more males texted and drove than females. 51 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds texted and drove, 39 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds texted and drove, 33 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds texted and drove, 14 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds texted and drove, and 7 percent of people 65 years old or older texted and drove.

According to a HealthDay poll, most adults who drive confess to engaging in distracted driving behaviors. In addition to use of electronic devices, behaviors admitted include eating or drinking, to which 86% of drivers admitted; combing or styling hair, to which at least 20 percent admitted; and applying makeup, to which 14 percent admitted. The poll also reported that younger drivers and males had higher rates of distraction. A study found that coffee, hot soup, tacos, chili, hamburgers, and barbecued foods were the most dangerous to try and eat while driving.

According to a study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 15 percent of reported crashes were due to a teenage driver distracted by talking with a passenger. Another 12 percent of crashes occurred because a teenager was either talking, texting or searching for information on a cellphone while driving. The NHTSA determined that distracted driving accounts for 25 percent of all crashes involving teenage drivers.


Hazard assessment

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated the following crash or near-crash risks among novice drivers:

Activity Odds Ratio
Calling on a phone 8.3
Reaching for a phone 7.1
Sending or receiving text messages 3.9
Reaching for an object other than a phone 8.0
Looking at a roadside object (Rubbernecking) 3.9
Eating 3.0
Interaction with radio (or head unit) 1.0
Cell phone crash events according to Dingus et al. (2016)
Activity Odds Ratio Prevalence
Total cell (handheld) 3.6 6.4%
Cell dial (handheld) 12.2 0.1%
Cell text (handheld) 6.1 1.9%
Cell reach 4.8 0.6%
Cell browse 2.7 0.7%
Cell talk 2.2 3.2%

A study of U.S. crash data estimates that distracted driving contributed to 8-13 percent of police-reported crashes, with phone use sourcing 1.5 to 5 percent of these. Driver inattention contributed to an estimated 20-50 percent of crashes. The most-reported cause of distraction-related accidents was "outside person, object, or event" (commonly known as rubbernecking), followed by "adjusting radio/cassette player/CD". "Using a phone" was the eighth most reported cause. In 2011, according to the NHTSA, 1/3 of accidents were caused by distracted driving.

The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that 1.6 million (25%) of crashes annually are due to calling on a smartphone, and another 1 million (18%) are caused by texting while driving. These numbers equate to one accident caused every 24 seconds by driving distracted from phone use. It also reported that speaking in a call while driving reduces focus on the road and the act of driving by 37 percent, irrespective of hands-free calling operation. Calling on a phone is estimated to increase the risk of experienced drivers crashing or nearly crashing by a factor of 2.5. The US Department of Transportation estimates that reaching for a phone distracts a driver for 4.6 seconds; at 55 miles per hour, this could equal a football field of distance.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that talking to a passenger was as distracting as talking in a call on a hands-free smartphone, and a study by Monash University found that having one or more children in the car was 12 times more distracting than calling while driving. Devid Petrie of the Huffington Post deemed backseat children passengers the worst distraction for drivers, and recommended pulling over in case of crying children. According to an AAA study, 80 percent of respondents with dogs drove with them, but 31 percent of these admitted to being distracted by them, and only 17 percent used any form of pet restraints.

Boston Globe correspondent Lucia Huntington stated that "eating while operating a vehicle has become the norm, but...proves costly for many drivers. Soups, unwieldy burgers, and hot drinks can make steering a car impossible. Although the dangers... are apparent and well known, drivers ignore them repeatedly, accounting for many crashes and near-misses."


Risk characterization

The rising annual rate of fatalities from distracted driving corresponds to both the number of cell phone subscriptions per capita, as well as the average number of text messages sent per month. From 2009 to 2011, the number of text messages sent increased by nearly 50 percent.

Distracted driving offenders are more likely to report driving while drowsy, going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, driving aggressively, not stopping at a red light or stop sign, and driving while under the influence of alcohol.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports that younger drivers are overwhelmingly more likely than older drivers to text message and talk on cell phones while driving. However, the proportion of drivers aged 35–44 who reported talking on cell phones while driving is not significantly lower than those drivers aged 18–24 who report doing so. More than 600 parents and caregivers were surveyed in two Michigan emergency rooms while their children, ages 1–12 years, were being treated for any reason. During this survey, almost 90% of drivers reported engaging in at least one technology-related distraction while driving their children in the past month. The parents who disclosed conducting phone calls while driving were 2.6 times likely to have reportedly been involved in a motor vehicle crash.


Accident risk assessment

A study reviewed field operational tests on cars, heavy product vehicles, and commercial vehicles and buses and concluded that:

  • Most of the collisions and near misses that occur involve inattention as a contributing factor.
  • Visual inattention (looking away from the road ahead) is the single most significant factor contributing to crash and near-crash involvement.
  • Cognitive distraction associated with listening to, or talking on, a handheld or hands-free device is associated with crashes and near-miss events to a lesser extent than is commonly believed, and such distractions may even enhance safety in some instances.


The Driver Brain

Brain activity WITH NO distractions

The somatosensory association, parietal and visual cortices are not significantly activated during simple driving tasks, like driving straight or making a right-hand turn. A left turn with no oncoming traffic presents a little more activation in the premotor cortex, somatosensory area, visual and parietal cortices, as well as the cerebellum. When oncoming traffic is introduced while trying to make a left-hand turn, there is a significant activation multiple bilateral regions in the mid-posterior brain, which includes motor and premotor areas, visual, parietal, and somatosensory regions, and the cerebellum.

Brain activity WITH distractions

When something as simple as answering general knowledge true-or-false questions are introduced as a distraction to the driver, the brain activity is increased during both straight driving and when turning left with the presence of oncoming traffic. When just driving straight, which showed very little brain activation without distraction, is paired with answering simple questions, there is a significant increase in brain activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally, along with the auditory cortex and parietal lobes. There was also decreased activation in occipital-visual regions of the brain. When a left turn plus traffic, which already yielded the most activation of the undistracted driving tasks, had audio tasks added to the tasking, auditory, motor, somatosensory, visual, parietal, and cerebellar regions were activated. There was also significant additional activation bilaterally in the anterior brain areas, mainly in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and frontal polar region.


Deceased Driving Ability

The areas of the brain that have decreased activation during a moment of multitasking are areas of spatial processing and spatial attention. Because of this, it is important for drivers to focus on only the task at hand, driving. Even though driving becomes a primary cognitive function, when drivers are distracted (e.g., on their cell phones, talking to passengers, or fiddling with the radio), the areas of the brain that need to be activated to safely operate the vehicle are not.


Deadly Consequences

The rate of incidents associated with distracted driving is growing in the United States. According to an NHTSA report, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in the United States from motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015. The report states that 80% of accidents and 16% of highway deaths are the results of distracted drivers.

Incidents related to distracting driving have been particularly common among young drivers. In 2008, there were 23,059 accidents involving 16- to 19-year-olds, which led to 194 deaths. Of these deaths, 10 percent were reported to be caused by distracted driving. Throughout the United States, over 3,000 deaths and 416,000 injuries annually can be attributed to distracted driving.[40] Driving while texting is about 4 times more likely to result in an accident than drinking while driving, while the risk of injury requiring hospital visitation is 3–5 times greater than for other types of accidents.  In 2018, an Apple developer crashed his vehicle on a mountain view highway while interacting with a video game on the mobile phone of his employer.


Lax Enforcement

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have passed laws related to distracted driving. Additionally, 41 states, D.C. and Guam have banned text messaging for all drivers, and 10 states, D.C. and Guam prohibit drivers from holding phones while driving. However, no state currently completely bans all use of the device, including hands-free. Each state varies in the restrictions placed upon drivers.

Current US laws are not strictly enforced. Punishments are so mild that people pay little attention. Drivers are not categorically prohibited from using phones while driving. For example, using earphones to talk and texting with a hands-free device remain legal.

Laws have not led to consistent driver compliance. Hand-held phone usage fell in New York in the five months after the hands-free law took effect. However, it returned to near the prior level by the 16-month mark.

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