We are all guilty of it. Chances are, this very afternoon in the car, you’ll glance down at your phone to flip to a new song on Spotify, or rummage in the glove compartment for a stick of gum. Your mind may drift to a song on the radio as you cruise along in the fast lane.
Guess what? You’ve just performed all three of the categories of distracted driving: visual, manual, and cognitive. And we won’t be congratulating you. Our car accident attorneys at Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C., have seen too many victims of distracted driving wrecks to applaud multitasking. Our home state of Illinois saw an 8 percent increase in fatal car crashes from 2015 to 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). The Illinois Department of Transportation summed it up: “Nearly 3 people were killed per day in traffic crashes in 2016.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 9 percent of all fatalities in U.S. vehicle accidents is related to distracted driving. That number jumps to 16 percent when it comes to injuries.
Most Common Distractions in Fatal Accidents
Erie Insurance in Pennsylvania analyzed two years of FARS data to come up with the most common distractions police
officers reported for fatal accidents. They included:
- Daydreaming. A mind is a terrible thing to let wander while you’re going 55 mph on a straightaway. A split-second of lost focus can mean a rear-end collision with the vehicle in front of you. If it’s a semi-truck, you could be the victim of an often-fatal underride crash. Believe it or not, police recorded “lost in thought” as the principal cause of 62 percent of fatal distracted driving accidents.
- Using your cell phone. We have no doubt that cell phones and other mobile devices are on their way to the top spot for causing distracted driving collisions in the United States, but they haven’t officially made it there yet. Talking, texting, reading a text, and navigating a touch screen accounted for an estimated 12 percent of distracted driving fatalities.
- Focusing on something outside of the vehicle. If you turn to look at something on the side of the road without regard for what’s ahead of you, you could cause a dangerous situation. Police across the country reported this cause for 7 percent of all fatal distracted driving accidents.
- Interacting with passengers. A good conversation can end up killing you, if you happen to be driving on an expressway and feel the need to turn around to make your point. Around 5 percent of fatal distracted driving crashes were attributed to passenger interaction.
- Using or attempting to use a device brought into the vehicle. Fumbling for that stick of gum would count in this category. Around 2 percent of distracted drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were manipulating headsets or other devices right before the accident.
This data, while helpful, is definitely incomplete; the National Safety Council (NSC) rightly notes that underreporting of crash factors is a serious problem throughout the United States. Since few drivers will admit to being distracted, there is some difficulty in recording the actual cause of a collision if no independent eyewitnesses were at the scene. Though a lawyer may be able to subpoena a driver’s cell phone logs during a personal injury claim, there is no way to look back and see if the at-fault driver was thinking about his dinner plans.
Other Factors in Distraction
The more you know, the better you can prepare yourself to hit the road safely. Here are some facts about distracted driving pulled from the latest scientific studies:
The Emotional Element
“When you are angry or upset, you’re more at risk to be an aggressive driver or be in a crash,” says Beverly Shirk, pediatric trauma coordinator at Penn State Children’s Hospital. “You want to just get in that car and drive away, but you need to take a minute to get your emotions under control because otherwise you’re not going to make good decisions.” (ScienceDaily)
The Telegraph reported on a study done by Virginia Tech that found “driving while observably angry, sad, crying, or emotionally agitated increases the risk of a crash by 9.8 times compared with model driving.” However, the study still concluded that dialing a mobile phone and reading or writing while driving were more dangerous than driving while emotional. Still, it’s a good idea to take a break and calm down before heading home.
The Personality Element
Frontiers in Psychology covered a study that examined the association between someone’s age, gender, and personality when it came to distracted driving. Relying on self-reported data, researchers found that young men were among those most prone to distraction. So were people who drove often, and those with “neurotic and extroverted personalities.” People from social backgrounds that accepted distracted driving as “normal” were also more likely to drive distracted.
Avoiding Distracted Driving
NHTSA has a wonderful resource page dedicated to stopping vehicle crashes that are attributable to human errors (e.g.,
distracted driving)—which account for a whopping 94 percent of vehicle crashes in the U.S. Let’s do our part by promoting “focused” driving. Next time you have some place to be, try:
- Hiding the phone. Turn it on silent, and stow it deep in your purse, the glove box, or the backseat. There are apps that you can download that let people who are trying to reach you know that you are driving. It’s a polite way to share the message that distracted driving is never okay.
- Setting the GPS before you start. If you need to troubleshoot your GPS, pull over safely and reprogram the device. Most navigation systems will do it for you, however. Take advantage of this.
- Enjoy a random mix of music. Fiddling with a radio or music player made it to the top ten “common distractions that cause fatal accidents.” Before shifting the car into drive, we recommend putting on a playlist you like, turning on your favorite podcast or just listening to whatever comes along on the radio.
Learn the ropes of defensive driving with these eLearning courses:
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney If You’re in a Distracted Driving Accident. We hope this knowledge keeps you safer on the road. If you have any questions for a distracted driving lawyer in Chicago, feel free to contact Staver Accident Injury
Lawyers, P.C. An attorney can evaluate your specific situation and help you understand your legal options after an accident.
About the Author
Jared Staver is a personal injury lawyer and car accident attorney in Chicago, IL. As an experienced attorney, he has seen many clients who have had their lives altered due to someone else’s negligence, and many of those have come from distracted driver accidents. Attorney Staver writes about the dangers of distracted driving and other personal injury subjects to educate people in a hope that they can avoid these types of situations or at least be better prepared to handle them.