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Distracted Driving in Personal Injury Cases

April was national distracted driving month, so it is about time we discussed this important issue. Distracted driving is a serious problem. Now that smartphones are incredibly common, there are more and more people getting distracted behind the wheel. At any given moment, 660,000 people in the U.S. are using electronic devices while operating a vehicle. This has led to an increase in distracted driving accidents.

Accidents and Injuries from Distracted Driving

In 2014 431,000 people were injured across the country in distracted driving accidents. In that same year, Travis County made up 1,774 of those injuries - 11 of which were fatal. This is a problem among all demographics, but the majority is young drivers, or people between 15 and 29. Teenagers are often incredibly distracted, and most are focusing on their phones or friends in the car. 10 percent of teenage drivers get into fatal crashes because of distracted driving, and 7 teens die every day in motor vehicle accidents. Car accidents are the number 1 cause of teenage deaths in the United States. If a teenager makes it to their 20s unscathed, they still have a high chance of getting into a distracted driving accident. People in their 20s make up 23 percent of distracted drivers that end up in accidents. But, people of all ages are guilty of distracted driving. This could be a mother looking over her seat at her fighting children, or a middle aged man that is lost looking at a gps. It only takes a couple seconds to become distracted, and many do not realize that the one second they look away from the road could be fatal.

What is Distracted Driving?

When most people think distracted driving, they think of texting. This is probably because it is one of the most common distractions, and one of the most dangerous. Texting requires you to look at a screen while using your hands and focusing your brain on something besides the road, thus it takes visual, motor, and cognitive attention away from driving. But, distracted driving doesn't just mean texting and driving, it also includes the following:

  • Using a cell phone
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading (including maps)
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 Player

Any activity that results in taking your eyes off the road is considered dangerous and distracting. Even if you justify making a phone call because it is an emergency, it is still considered punishable. Make sure you are pulling over if you need to use a phone or gps, because under no circumstances should you be distracted driving. So, what devices are banned from use while operating a vehicle? The following devices are banned from use on the Austin roads:

  • Mobile Telephone
  • Personal Digital Assistant
  • MP3 or other hand-held music player
  • Electronic Reading Device
  • Laptop computer
  • Pager
  • Broadband Personal Communication Device
  • GPS or Navigation System
  • Electronic Gaming Device
  • Portable Computing Device

If there is an emergency, or you feel the need to use any of the previous devices, please pull over and turn off your vehicle. A stop sign is no place to send a text, but a parking lot with the car off is totally acceptable.

Austin's Hands Free Law

Back in February we discussed how the state of Texas has yet to make distracted driving illegal. But despite Texas being one of four states that hasn't criminalized distracted driving, the city of Austin has taken measures to improve the safety of our streets. Austin's Hands Free law went into effect on January 1st, 2015. This means that the use of any hand held device is punishable with fines up to $500. According to the Austin Municipal Court, 5,703 tickets have been issued for using an electronic device and driving since February 2015. The APD is cracking down on distracted driving, and has recognized the dangers that come with it. The only exception for distracted driving is if you are calling the police to report an accident or crime, but you are still encouraged to pull over to make the call. Hands free electronics that use headphones or Bluetooth are allowed, but it is still important to remain focused on the road when engaged in a conversation or attempting to navigate with a hands free gps. Some organizations, such as the National Safety Council, have made the argument that even hands free technology is dangerous. Even if you have both hands on the wheel, you are not fully concentrating on the road, and are partially focused on another activity or conversation. This could still lead to accidents on the road. According to the NSC, 90% of crashes are caused by driver error, not road conditions or mechanical failure. So, it is important to keep your focus completely on the road and your surroundings. For more information on why even hands free devices are dangerous, check out our January post here.

The Importance of Safe Driving

It is not only important for you to drive safely, but for those around you to drive safely. If you have a friend or loved one that often is distracted while driving, encourage them to stop since it is incredibly dangerous for themselves and those around them. If you have children, make sure you are teaching them to drive safely, and to never use hand held electronics while operating a vehicle. Teach your child that even changing the music or texting at a red light is considered distracted driving, and could lead to an accident or ticket. Also, if you see someone on the road texting and driving, please keep a distance, take down their license plate, and report them to the police. Something as simple as looking down to turn off a cellphone could lead to a fatal accident. For more information on spotting a distracted driver, check our old post here. If you or a loved one is injured because of distracted driving, please contact us at 512-472-8865 or email [email protected]

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