What Are the Consequences of Distracted Driving?

When you’re talking on speaker phone to catch up with your grandparents, applying makeup in the visor mirror, thinking about your date tonight, or even singing along to the radio – once you find your favorite station – you’ve just increased your risk of an accident because of driving distracted… 

Woman applying makeup

Many know that texting and driving is dangerous, but how many consider that all types of distracted driving come with consequences? 1.6 million crashes each year are caused by texting and driving, according to the National Safety Council, but how many crashes are caused when you’re eating a burger behind the wheel, reaching for something in your briefcase, or taking that drink of coffee? What are the consequences of distracted driving? 

Forget just texting! In 2013, distraction-related crashes claimed 3,154 lives. That’s over eight people per day killed. So, the immediate answer is distracted driving causes accidents that cause deaths – and not always simply the death of the person driving distracted. Furthermore, in that same year, over 424,000 people were injured in crashes that involved distracted drivers. That’s almost 1,200 people per day injured. These statistics don’t cover those who simply get in scrapes, who are uninjured, but there’s no doubt the figures would be staggering.

No one wants to feel unsafe on the road, but the facts are that the statistics aren’t really budging so do we need more stringent laws against distracted driving or do we simply need to educate people on the consequences? Will education solve the problem? Even the abstract consequence of taking lives and causing accidents doesn’t seem to deter all drivers from driving distracted.

What Is Distracted Driving?

There are three types of distractions when driving: manual, visual, and cognitive. These types of distractions stop drivers from being able to concentrate fully on the task at hand, driving, and are extremely dangerous. Road conditions can change in a matter of seconds and if you’re distracted, you won’t be prepared.

Manual Distractions

Manual distractions are any distractions that take your hands off the wheel. When you’re eating in your car, changing the radio station or your podcast, smoking, reaching on the floor for that pen you dropped, recording a WhatsApp audio to your significant other, or drinking your morning chai, you’re creating manual distractions. Your reaction time will be slowed, and you may not be able to control the car in time if something happens suddenly. You might find yourself veering off the side of the road on the highway, for example. You may cause a car crash, you may burst a tire, or you may hit a pedestrian.

Visual Distractions

When you take your eyes off the road, you’re succumbing to visual distractions. Reading messages on your phone, operating a GPS, putting on makeup, or taking in the scenery are examples of visual distractions. You may think you’re only taking your eyes off the road for a split second, but you may be – effectively – driving blind. Visual distractions can take our eyes off the road for five whole seconds or more. Five seconds going at 55 miles per hour means that you’ve travelled with your eyes shut for the length of a football field, and, when you’re driving your pickup down the highway, you’re putting yourself and others at great risk. While you’re going that length of the football field, what if someone came suddenly into your lane from a truck stop or exit, and came in your path and you didn’t know and didn’t have time to slow down? Taking your eyes off the road even to change the AC dial can have a severe impact on yourself and other drivers. Most wouldn’t drive under the influence of alcohol or with other impairments, but we drive distracted every day.

Cognitive Distractions

The last type of distraction, cognitive, is the most debated of the three since this type of distraction is anything that takes your mind from driving. However, most of us are not 100% tuned in at every minute of our morning or evening commute. How many times have you driven the same route to work, reached the company parking lot, only to realize you didn’t really remember much of your drive? When we take the same route day in day out, it can be difficult for us to concentrate on every step, so cognitive distractions include daydreaming, thinking about work, thinking about that argument you had with a friend, thinking about the loss of your pet, anything that takes your mind away from driving.

When driving, it’s important to talk yourself through the process at points to keep your mind on the task as we often have driver blindness; for example, many who hit motorbikers or cyclists say they didn’t see them coming, and the truth is they probably didn’t – because of driver inattention blindness – we see what we expect to see (see this study on SMIDSY here). Our brains fill in the details, so when you’re driving you need to say to yourself ‘motorbike,’ ‘pedestrian,’ ‘animal,’ ‘cyclist,’ and whatever you might expect to see on the road so that you can ‘see’ anything that crops up. It may sound absurd, but there’s a study here about how we see only what we expect.

What Can Happen if I’m Involved in a Distracted Driver Accident?

  • Criminal Penalties

Many states have made distracted driving a criminal offense. Other states specify that cell phones cannot be used while driving unless they are hands-free. Texting and driving is banned in most states. Those caught distracted driving can face heavy fines – even if it’s a ticket for driving erratically, crossing the center line, or driving unsafely.

Those involved in a car accident due to distracted driving can face criminal consequences, especially if someone was seriously injured or killed as a result.

  • Higher Insurance Premiums

If you receive many traffic violations as a result of distracted driving, your insurance premiums will go up since the price of your insurance is linked to driving history.

  • Financial Losses

If you caused a car accident and were found to be at fault from distracted driving, you could be forced to pay for loss of life, injuries, and/or property damage.

  • Losing Your License

If you get too many points on your license, you may lose your license or have it suspended.

  • Jail Time

If you’re found to be criminally negligent and it led to an accident which caused serious bodily injury or death to someone, you may be jailed. 

The bottom line is it’s not worth it to drive distracted. When driving, try to keep your mind on the task and be safe. You never know when the driving conditions can change and you could unintentionally harm someone. Is answering or reading that text message important enough to kill someone? Make sure you drive responsibly.

Have You or a Loved One Been Injured by a Distracted Driver?

If you’ve been a victim of a distracted driver, Coxwell & Associates, PLLC can help. We have over 36 years of experience getting people the compensation they deserve. Call us today for a case consultation.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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