Distracted driving

— Erick Tyson von Mueller

Probably all drivers have been distracted while driving. This doesn’t make it right but it does draw attention to the problem.

Busy lifestyles and long commutes can push drivers to perform tasks that cannot always be safely completed while operating a vehicle.

Text messaging, status updates and mobile web interactions have recently come under fire for becoming a distraction to drivers, but GPS systems, grooming, talking to passengers, and even adjusting radios and music can cause distractions while driving, even if only taking attention for a couple of seconds.

The fact that a driver was distracted dramatically increases the likelihood that the driver will be found responsible for damages caused. If you are have been involved in a distracted driving accident and are injured, if you are the victim or even if you believe that you are the negligent party, you should hire an attorney to represent your interests.

What is distracted driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distracted driving as any type of behavior that diverts attention from the act of driving. Some of the most common forms of distracted driving include:

  • Using a handheld mobile device for example to call or text;
  • Navigating using a GPS;
  • Eating or drinking;
  • Attending to passengers or pets;
  • Reading;
  • Applying makeup, combing or brushing hair, or otherwise self-grooming;
  • Changing the radio, selecting music, adjusting temperature controls, and so on;
  • Looking at something outside that is not the road in front of you; and
  • Daydreaming or thinking about something unrelated to driving.

Many of these behaviors may seem relatively harmless, or even appear perfectly fine to perform while operating a vehicle. However, the truth is that doing anything other than focusing on the act of driving while behind the wheel has the potential to be dangerous. NHTSA reports that:

  • Nine percent of fatal crashes in 2017 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
  • In 2017 there were 3,166 people killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
  • Six percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. Eight per-cent of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the fatal crashes.
  • In 2017 there were 599 nonoccupants (pedestrians, cyclists, and others) killed in distraction-affected crashes.

We are making improvements because according to the NHTSA, distracted driving killed 3,477 people in 2015. In many jurisdictions, using a mobile phone to call or text is now illegal.

Cell phones

Cell phones, mobile phones, smartphones, whatever you call them, the ever-evolving technology for mobile communication can offer some aspects of safety for drivers when used correctly and safely. But despite the ability to provide aid to stranded drivers or those experiencing car problems, using cell phones is a distracting behavior.

Of all age groups, teens were the most likely to be reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.

In the United States, during daylight hours, approximately a lot of drivers are using cell phones while driving. This creates enormous potential for injuries, damages, and deaths on the roadways.

Are cell phones the silent killers? Only if you set ringing to vibrate.

What’s the most dangerous type of distracted driving?

While all types of distracted driving have the potential to be deadly, the most dangerous type of distracted driving is the use of a mobile (cell) phone accounting for 14 percent of fatalities attributed to distracted driving. Texting using a mobile or smartphone is more distracting than talking and has become a significant source of distraction. The reason that texting while driving is so dangerous is that it causes all three forms of distraction:

  • Visual distraction — refers to taking a driver’s eyes of off the road. Turning to look at a passenger, reading a map or in-vehicle navigation system, looking down at a phone or looking in a mirror to apply makeup are all examples of distractions that would affect visual attention. A mere moment or matter of seconds is all it takes for a driver to miss an obstacle in the road, drift from a lane, or fail to notice a change in traffic.
  • Manual distraction — refers to taking a driver’s hands off of the wheel. If a person takes one or both hands from the wheel while driving, he or she will be unable to respond quickly in the event of a road hazard or other emergency. A driver may lose control of the vehicle with insufficient time to react or may drift from the road or lane. Texting, using a hand-held cellphone, eating, lighting a cigarette and personal grooming are examples of distractions that affect manual attention.
  • Cognitive or mental distraction — refers to taking a driver’s mind off of the task of driving. Many different activities may affect a driver’s mental attention, such as texting, talking to a passenger, driving with too little sleep, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Judgment and reaction time will be affected if mental attention is decreased.

In comparison, most other behaviors cause only one or two forms of distraction.

Is distracted driving illegal?

Distracted driving is very dangerous, but not all behaviors that cause distracted driving are illegal. If we are to live in a free society, then to the greatest possible extent we must be allowed to exercise our better judgement. Some legal jurisdictions may prohibit texting and others among the most distracting and dangerous behaviors, but not all such behaviors can be prohibited.

This may be confusing for some drivers to understand: if distracted driving is so dangerous, why not prohibit it by outlawing all distracting behaviors. There are two reasons. First, there is a difficulty of enforcement. For example, texting may be outlawed because a law enforcement officer may be able to see evidence of a violation (a negligent driver driving while texting), but consider daydreaming. If a driver is thinking more about something else than about driving, how will the officer know? How could that be proved?

Second, we live in a free society. In other words, we have to be free to make our own mistakes, but we agree to be held accountable for our choices. Behaviors like self-grooming, adjusting the radio, or eating or drinking are not necessarily illegal until their distraction causes an accident. They aren’t a problem until they are. However, if these behaviors are not illegal, how can a driver who was distracted at the time of the crash be held liable for damages that he or she caused?

In Nevada, fault for an accident is not necessarily predicated on whether or not a law is breached; instead, fault is based on negligence, or the failure to act with the proper duty of care required for a situation. You have an ethical and a legal duty to operate a vehicle safely and responsibly when you get behind the wheel. While eating or drinking while driving certainly isn’t illegal, it is unsafe. A reasonable person would probably state that taking one’s hands off of the wheel and looking away from the road while driving, especially at high speeds, is unsafe. Therefore, a driver who commits an act of distracted driving that causes a crash can be held liable based on their negligence.

However, there are distracting behaviors that are illegal. It is illegal to talk or text on a handheld cellphone or similar device while driving in Nevada.

How can I reduce distractions while driving?

According to Nevada Department of Transportation:

  • Before driving, secure your cellphone in a place such as the glove box where you will not be able or tempted to access it while driving.
  • Make any necessary phone calls before or after driving.
  • Seek out and install an application that blocks phone calls and texting while driving.
  • Do not call someone who you know is driving at the time.
  • Remain focused on the road. Do not eat, apply makeup, reach across the vehicle for items or conduct any other distracting activities while driving.
  • Ask a passenger to assist you with activities that may be distracting while you are driving, such as reading directions.

If you must make a call while driving, pull over to a safe area such as a parking lot before making or receiving a call or texting.

Do not park directly off to the side of the road to make a call. This is not safe due to the proximity to moving traffic.

How do I prove that the driver who hit me was distracted?

The crux of a car accident claim is proving that the other driver was at fault for your injuries. You have to prove negligence in order to hold this driver liable for the injuries and damages that resulted from the accident. However, proving distraction isn’t always easy. For example, proving other forms of negligence such as driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs is typically easier because of the altered state of the negligent party at the time of the accident.

If you are involved in a distracted driving accident, it is important to collect as much evidence as you can as soon as you can, including:

  • Any video footage of the accident;
  • Pictures of the vehicles’ resting places and angles of impact;
  • Witness testimony;
  • Testimony from the other driver;
  • Police reports; and
  • Cell phone data reports (which may indicate the driver was browsing the internet, sending a text message, and so on, at the time of crash).

You should contact an experienced personal injury attorney who is familiar with the process of establishing that the negligent party was distracted, and can hire accident reconstruction experts, send spoliation of evidence letters to preserve evidence from destruction, and request certain evidence types (like cell phone logs). Some of the types of evidence that may be key to proving distracted driving can be difficult to obtain on your own.

There is a law being proposed in Nevada that would require the submission of phones or other hand-held devices to authorities for electronic testing at the scene of the accident to check if they were used in a prohibited manner (for example texting or hand-held navigation) when the collision occurred. Refusal to submit your devices would lead to immediate license suspension.

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Erick Tyson von Mueller profile image

Erick Tyson von Mueller

Erick is a researcher and life-long student of the arts. He graduated from university after studying intelligence and fell into the deep state. He has surfaced now and again to run a drive-through coffee shop (!), an award-winning live music venue in Austin, Texas (!), and a cement block factory in Uruguay (!), among other adventures in a life otherwise spent performing analysis. His speciality remains state security and the philosophy of the prison world.