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Distracted Driving

Advice from Attorney Michael Thomas

Nlegal-textingot long ago, my best friend was killed by a distracted driver who was texting while driving. Unfortunately, he is not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 8 people are killed and 1,161 people are injured every day in a crash involving distracted driving. One out of every four car crashes involves a cellphone in some way. In 2013 alone, 341,000 crashes involved texting while driving.

By now, we should all know about the dangers of cellphone use and driving. Yet so many of us continue to drive while distracted by our phones. Surveys conducted over the last few years show that more than one-third of all drivers and nearly half of drivers under the age of 40 admitted to texting while driving. But texting isn’t the only distraction that our cellphones bring. In 2014, surveys estimated that 80% of all drivers owned a smartphone. To call these devices “phones” is something of a misnomer; smartphones today do so much more than enable interpersonal communication. Whether you are checking your email, updating your social media account, setting your GPS, or even picking the next song to play in your car, all of these activities serve as distractions that make driving even more dangerous.

Many of us believe that using hands-free technology is safer than manually using our phones while we drive. However, recent studies have called this logic into question. Regardless of whether we realize it, using a phone in any way takes our mind off of driving. Research shows that voice-to-text technology such as Apple’s Siri places significant cognitive demands upon us as drivers, even without taking our hands or eyes off of the road. One study from the Texas Transportation Institute specifically compared the difference in driver impairment between drivers manually texting and drivers texting hands-free using voice-to-text technology.  Notably, the study found no improvement in driver ability when the drivers used voice-to-text technology; both methods significantly delayed driver response time.  Perhaps more concerning, drivers reported that texting with voice-to-text technology made them feel safer than manually texting, suggesting that these devices create a false sense of security.  Even the popular show Myth Busters debunked the idea that hands-free technology is safer than manually texting while driving. In fact, a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found hands-free devices to be so cognitively demanding that drivers remained cognitively impaired for up to 27 seconds after finishing a phone call or selecting a song to play! Because our minds remain distracted for such a long time after we put the phone down, texting while stopped in traffic clearly is not a good idea either.

Using your phone while you drive is not just dangerous, it is also illegal. Almost every state in the country bans some form of cellphone use while driving. Florida joined that list in 2013 when the Florida legislature enacted the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving. If you get into a crash and cause personal injury, your phone records can be admissible in court to prove you were texting and driving at the time of the crash. In other states, drivers who kill another due to texting and driving have been found guilty of felony mansalughter.

With all the traveling we do each day, it is important to remember to keep our hands, eyes, and mind off of your phone. After all, the most important thing is to make sure everyone makes it to their destination safely.

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