Cell phone use, emotional distress, reaching for objects put drivers at risk
Every motorist knows that distracted driving increases the risk of an accident, but few would have guessed just how dangerous it is. A new study sheds some light on the sheer volume of distracted driving accidents.
Conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, VA, the study focused on internal automobile video of over 3,500 drivers across the country. These participants volunteered to allow their cars to be equipped with cameras as well as devices that tracked speed, location and other information.
The results are striking. In a sample of 905 crashes that caused injuries or property damage, drivers were obviously distracted 68 percent of the time - more than two-thirds of the accidents.
According to study author Tom Dingus, those results are particularly valuable because the video data allowed researchers to compare distracted driving to alert, attentive and sober driving - what the analysis calls "model" driving.
Study results showed that distractions that took the driver's eyes away from the road for extended periods of time - such as using cell phones, reading or writing, reaching for objects and using touchscreen menus - were the most dangerous.
Sending or receiving a text message takes an average of 4.6 seconds per message, which amounts to an entire football field at highway speeds. Driving while angry, sad, tearful or agitated also contributed to a high percentage of accidents.
Florida's laws may contribute to increased risk of accidents
Cell phones were pegged as a major contributing factor to accidents in the Virginia Tech study. In fact, the results indicated that using a mobile phone increased the odds of an accident by almost four times compared to model driving.
That's a problem for Florida motorists because state laws do little to limit cell phone use. According to Florida Statute 316.305, it's illegal to use texting, instant messages or email while driving - but doing so is considered a secondary offense. That means law enforcement officers can't pull motorists over for texting while driving. Citations can only be issued when the driver is stopped on suspicion of another offense, such as speeding.
In addition, the Florida law only prohibits texting while the vehicle is in motion, not while waiting at a stop sign or red light. That's a problem because, as other studies have shown, a driver who texts while stopped at a light remains mentally distracted for some time after the light turns green.
Florida lawmakers have weighted several proposals to crack down on distracted driving. One such law, filed in both the House and Senate, would make texting while driving a primary offense, eliminating the enforcement issues with the current law. Other proposals would double the fine for texting and driving in a school zone and expand the current ban to include all non-emergency cell phone use, not just texting.
From a legal perspective, remember that even though you can't be pulled over for texting and driving in Florida, texting could still play a significant role in a personal injury or wrongful death case. Texting while driving is illegal, even as a secondary offense, and engaging in illegal activity that contributes to someone else's injury or death is a form of negligence. If you are involved in a crash causing injury and a witness sees you texting immediately beforehand - or if cell phone records are used as evidence - you are very likely to be held liable for the accident.
As always, the best policy is to obey the law. If you need to send or read a message while on the road, pull over, stop your vehicle completely, and take a moment to focus on driving before you re-enter the roadway. Doing so will protect you and other motorists from injury - and protect you from liability in the event of an accident.