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Texting and Driving: The Facts about Distracted Driving Accidents

By Stewart J. Guss on August 30th, 2019 Distracted-Driving-Lawyer-Stewart-J-Guss

According to a report from the CDC, approximately nine people are killed, and a thousand are injured every day, as a result of distracted driving. Additionally, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the majority of the distracted individuals involved in auto accidents were teenagers. However, teenagers are far from the only problem on this front. Adults still contribute significantly to distracted driving accidents. Even adults who drive professionally commonly cause accidents due to distracted driving. 

There are many possible sources of distraction on the road: eating, talking to a passenger, adjusting makeup, etc. One of the greatest contributing factors, however, is cell phone usage. Often this usage is in the form of texting while driving. 

Texting and Drunk Driving

In the late 1970s, laws and regulations regarding drunk driving experienced a sudden rise due to campaigning efforts of the time in response to the high prevalence of fatalities related to drunk driving. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that drunk driving contributed to approximately 60% of traffic fatalities in the mid-1970s, compared to the 28% in 2016 reported by the CDC. However, according to the same CDC report, the total number of fatalities related to drunk driving in 2016 was still above 10,000.

Considering this information, it may be shocking to learn that texting and driving may be as dangerous as drinking four beers, according to the Brain Injury Society. As a result of decades of law enforcement and public service announcements, the public widely views drunk driving as a taboo. By contrast, texting and driving is a relatively new issue to tackle.

Teens Texting and Driving

Teenagers are three times more likely than those over 20 to get into a fatal car accident, according to the CDC. There are a variety of reasons for this, but two of the largest contributing factors are cognitive development and habitual reflex development. Research suggests that the human brain does not finish developing until about the age of 25. The consequences of this in the context of teen driving largely present themselves in the form of poor risk assessment. 

Teenagers are not only less capable of quickly evaluating a traffic situation and responding appropriately, but are also more likely to engage in risky driving behavior such as texting and driving. Additionally, as previously mentioned, teenagers just do not have the driving experience that older people do, and therefore do not have the habits and reflexes of driving ingrained in their minds yet. This compounds the risk of behaviors such as texting and driving for teenagers, because they do not have the experience to offset it. 

Truckers Texting and Driving

However, age and experience aren’t a complete remedy for accidents related to texting and driving. Even those who drive for a living commonly contribute to the statistics. The penalties for texting and driving are more severe for CMV (Commercial Motor Vehicle) drivers compared to other drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has enacted rules which penalize commercial truck drivers with additional fines and license suspensions for negligence related to texting while driving. It is important to note, however, that the additional regulations on commercial truck drivers only relate to handheld cell phone usage, not hands-free use of phones, such as GPS.  

Although these measures may have reduced accidents related to texting and driving involving commercial truck and other CMV drivers, it has far from eliminated them. In 2016, 6% of crashes involving a commercial truck were the result of distracted driving on the part of the truck driver. 16% of these were caused by cell phone usage. Traffic accidents involving a large truck are particularly dangerous due to the size of the vehicles, and when involved in a crash with one, it is in the best interest of affected parties to contact a lawyer

Cell-Phone Use and Driving Laws

Laws regarding cell phone usage and driving are mostly instituted on a state level. However, the federal government does also incentivize states to enforce strict laws about texting while driving. 

Federal Enforcement

In 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill was signed into law. The legislation offered funding to states who had primary enforcement laws regarding distracted driving. Primary enforcement allows a police officer to cite someone who is texting and driving, without observing any other traffic law infractions.  

Additionally, certain national regulatory agencies can also impact restrictions on texting while driving. This mostly applies to CMVs like commercial trucks, because CMV drivers must adhere to many national safety regulations, due to their use in interstate commerce. 

State Enforcement

As mentioned, most laws regarding texting and driving are drafted and enforced at the state level. Although they vary, moves such as the Moving Ahead for Progress bill have encouraged some homogeneity. An overview of state laws regarding cell phone usage while driving, as reported by the Governors’ Highway Safety Association:

  • Cell phone use in a motor vehicle does not have a blanket ban in any state. 
  • Any manipulation of a cell phone by a novice driver is illegal in 39 states and Washington D.C. 
  • It is illegal for a driver to manipulate a cell phone in their hands in 19 states, Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 
  • Texting while driving is illegal in 48 states, Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Although cell phone usage while driving is generally legal in Montana and Missouri, Missouri law includes a stipulation that text messaging is illegal by primary enforcement for drivers under the age of 21. 
  • Text messaging bans are primary enforcement laws in all but 3 states.
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