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Is Distracted Driving as Dangerous as Drunk Driving?

Distractions can come in a variety of guises. While you may not think of yourself as being one who participates in distracted driving, you may want to reconsider once you understand the scope of the problem. There is no question about the danger of drunk driving. In fact, drunk driving contributes to about 2 million vehicle crashes annually. Fatalities associated with highway accidents involving two or more cars are over 50% more likely to have alcohol impairment as a factor in the crash. As sobering as those statistics may be, the Centers for Disease Control has identified distracted driving as another major cause for vehicular accidents.

What Counts as Distracted Driving?

The truth is people have been distracted while driving since automobiles have been on the road. The difference is that common conveniences and modern technology have greatly increased the propensity of people to become distracted while driving.

Believe it or not, there was a time when fast food was not available. You couldn’t just drive up to a restaurant, order your food, pay at the first window and pick up your order at the second one. Eating out was a special treat and eating on the run usually meant you gobbled down a piece of toast between the table and the front door.

In the new millennium, you can use your electronic device to order your food on the way to the restaurant, pay for it, pick it up, and eat it without ever leaving the comfort of your vehicle. Wonderfully convenient, however, very distracting at the same time. So many people have grown accustomed to this way of life that it seems second nature. It’s not.

The human brain does not actually multitask. High-level function – those things that require thought – can only attend to one thing at a time. This means the brain switches between tasks. The switching can be fast, but your attention is not on two things at the same time. Research done in the 90s by Robert Rogers, PhD and Stephen Monsell, D. Phil showed that switching between tasks takes a toll. Generally speaking, one becomes less proficient when the brain is required to constantly switch between tasks.

Driving down the road drinking a hot coffee can have you wind up in a minor or major disaster should that coffee end up in your lap. Your attention immediately switches from driving to the mess and discomfort of the spilled coffee. In rush-hour traffic, that spill could cause a fender-bender or a major crash depending on the circumstances. When your attention is on your driving you are aware of your speed, the distance between you and the other cars, and a variety of other cues that keep you and your fellow travelers safe. When that distraction comes, for that moment, those cues get set aside; the results can be alarming, if not disastrous.

Basically, when it comes to driving, anything that is not helping you focus on the road and your driving is a distraction. Eating, reading billboards, talking on your cell phone, texting, smoking a cigarette; these are all distractions. Fatigue is a major distraction. Research shows that there is not much difference between driving drunk and driving while fatigued.

Cell Phones and Distraction

Although we used food and coffee as an example, the most common distraction when it comes to driving is cell phone use. The National Safety Council published a paper in 2012 called Understanding the Distracted Brain. It opens depicting a scene of an accident in which a young boy lost his life. The woman driving the car was talking on her cell phone and looking in the direction of the car she struck. She had gone through a red light and hit the fourth car that had passed through the intersection on the green light. According to the paper, researchers called this “a classic case of inattention blindness caused by the cognitive distraction of a cell phone conversation.”

The NSC also cites a portion D.L. Strayer’s presentation Cell Phones and Driver Distraction at the Traffic Safety Coalition in 2007 which states that even though drivers are “looking” where they are going, estimates show that “drivers using cell phones look but fail to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment.” Keep in mind too that this paper is focusing on hands free cell phone use while driving. This is not about texting while driving.

If hands-free cell phone use is deemed dangerous by the NSC, you can just imagine the risk of texting while driving. Estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that as many as nine percent of drivers are using cell phones while on the road. Then consider that the National Safety Council puts cell phone use as being involved with as much as a quarter of the major motor vehicle accidents at the time of the crash; it is not any surprise that these devices are considered a public hazard when used in combination with driving.

Currently, there is no law against texting and driving in Arizona – unless you are a new teen driver. Arizona’s first ban on texting while driving will go into effect on July 1, 2018. Minors will not be allowed to text and drive while learning to drive and after receiving their driver’s license they will not be allowed to text while driving for the first six months.

Distracted driving is a serious problem. If you or a family member has been affected by distracted driving, contact us at Matthew Lopez Law, PLLC. We will stand by you and put all our resources at your disposal for a timely and fair resolution.

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