Distracted driving is any activity an operator of a motor vehicle is engaged in that both distracts them from their primary task of driving and increases their risk of an accident. In other words, distracted driving is any activity diverting a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.

  • Visual – looking at something other than the road
  • Auditory – hearing something not related to driving
  • Manual – manipulating something other than the steering wheel
  • Cognitive – thinking about something other than driving.

All distractions endanger the driver, passengers, and others on the road.  Distractions come from four general sources:

  • Associated with the vehicle – controls, displays, navigation systems
  • Brought into the vehicle – cell phones, computers, food, animals, grooming aids
  • External to the vehicle – signs and displays, scenery, roadside features
  • Internal to the driver’s mind – daydreaming, “lost in thought”

The most alarming of these distractions is the one that requires the driver to take his visual, manual and cognitive attention away from driving: TEXTING.

Drunk driving, similar to distracted driving, because the driver’s visual, manual, and cognitive skills decrease due to the intoxicant. The dangers presented by drunk drivers have long been a part of our national vehicle safety consciousness. Unfortunately, the number of injuries and deaths caused by distracted drivers is likely to eclipse the drunk driving toll due to the prevalence of smartphones.

According to the CTIA,  consumers have sent over 170 billion text messages in the United States as of December 2012.. That statistic is five years old. That’s an eternity in technology terms. Studies show that the average driver takes his eyes off the road for 5 seconds at a time while texting. At 55 miles per hour, that is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. At 70 miles per hour, that driving blind for almost 2 football fields!

The Statistics

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging, browsing and dialing a call resulted in the longest duration of drivers taking their eyes off the road.[i] Text messaging increases the risk of crash and near-crash by two times and results in drivers taking their eyes off the road for an average of 23 seconds per text. Activities performed when completing a phone call (reaching for a phone, looking up a contact, dialing the number) increased crash risk by three times. VTTI also found that the risk of crash or near-crash events for commercial vehicle drivers who text is 23.2 times higher than non-distracted drivers.[ii]

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) governs 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles. It issued regulations prohibiting commercial drivers from texting while driving.[iii] FMCSA regulations also require that “[e]very commercial motor vehicle must be operated in accordance with the laws, ordinances, and regulations of the jurisdiction in which it is being operated.”[iiii] Therefore, if a state or local jurisdiction has passed a law banning or limiting electronic device use, the commercial driver is required to follow that statute.

New State Law

As of September 1, 2017, Texas has banned texting and driving. Texas posted signs s at each point where an interstate highway or US highway enters Texas stating: “The use of a portable wireless communication device for electronic messaging while operating a motor vehicle is prohibited in this state.”  The penalty for a first-time offender is a misdemeanor fine of not less than $25 and not more than $99. For repeat offenders, the fine is $100 to $200. This new law preempts all local ordinances regarding texting and driving.

Distracted driving is deadly.

End Notes

[1]           National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Impact of Hand-Held and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety-Critical Event Risk – Final Report, April 2013

[2]           Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, New Data from VTTI Provides Insight into Cell Phone Use and Driving Distraction, July 27, 2009

[3].         49 C.F.R. § 392.80; https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/driver-safety/distracted-driving

[4].         49 C.F.R. § 392.2.

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