My 87-year-old mother recently moved from her home in North Carolina to live with my sister in Pennsylvania. She would no longer need her car, a 2000 Mercury Sable, and therefore, gifted it to my 15-year-old son for his birthday. On one condition: that he agree not to text or talk on his cell phone while driving! He agreed.
I have defended a number of lawsuits over the years where the at-fault driver was alleged to have been on a cell phone at the time of the accident. But, the problem of distracted driving is not new. Surely, the folks who drove the first cars in the early 20th century experienced distractions, perhaps when they passed a neighbor who was in a horse-drawn buggy?
According to AAA, “passengers are one of the most frequently reported causes of distraction, with young children being four times more distracting than adults and infants being eight times more distracting.” Indeed, my first experience with distracted driving was when I was 18 years old, driving home from high school in my brand new 1980 Plymouth Horizon. The distraction? The four other teenage boys in the car with me! I passed a stopped school bus, got an expensive four-point ticket, and was well on my way to a distinguished driving record.
While texting, emailing, or talking on a cell phone can be dangerous, so too is eating, smoking, changing the channel on the satellite radio, or just “rubbernecking.” Some years ago, I defended a garbage truck driver who was distracted while drinking a 16-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew. The result? He ran right into the back of another truck! Nobody got hurt, but the owner of the other truck filed a lawsuit for their property damage. We lost.
Cell phones? AAA reports that using a cell phone while driving quadruples your risk of an accident. Driver inattention is a factor in over one million car crashes every year, with an economic impact of almost $40 billion annually. Just Google “cell phones and driving.” What are the results? “Drivers on cell phones are as bad as drunks.” “Despite the dangers, teens admit to cell phone use while driving.” “Drivers on cell phones kill thousands, snarl traffic.”
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is sponsoring a campaign to prevent texting and driving. Information can be found on their website at stoptextsstopwrecks.org. According to the NHTSA, five seconds is the average time a driver’s eyes are off the road while texting. While traveling at 55 mph, that is enough time to cover the length of a football field. A texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver. Using a cell phone while driving delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent.
Both the AAA and NHTSA provide suggestions for improving driver behavior. (1) Out of sight, out of mind. When you are in the car, put your phone where you cannot get it. A place where you will not even be tempted to look for it. No phone. No texting. (2) Silence is golden. Turn those notifications off. The less you hear your phone, the less tempted you will be to respond while you are driving. (3) Designate a texter. Borrow thumbs from a friend, or lend yours to a friend. Passengers get the privilege of texting while in motion.
Not everyone should text and walk. No one should text and drive.