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Distracted Driving: Everybody Does It (But That Doesn’t Make It Safe)

Have you ever watched the car ahead of you drift onto the shoulder and thought to yourself, “I’ll bet that driver is texting”? You pull up next to him at the stop light and sure enough, he’s pecking away on his smart phone, oblivious to the stink eye you’re giving him and oblivious to the traffic around him.

Distracted driving is nothing new, and everyone does it, whether they admit it or not. “What should I have for dinner?” “Did my boss see me take that extra ten-minute break?” “Oh, look, a squirrel! I hope it gets out of the street in time.”

While no one can clear every thought from their head completely to concentrate on the road ahead, they should. Driving is a privilege that should be taken seriously, and a complicated skill that takes hours of experience before a license is earned. U.S. roads are becoming ever-more heavily populated with cars and trucks ranging in weight from a tiny Smart Car at 1800 pounds to a Ford F-450 truck at almost 10,000 pounds, and speed limits that vary from 20 mph in a school zone to 70 mph on rural interstate highways. There is also a tremendous amount of variation in driving experience, from newly licensed teens with only a few hours’ of driving instruction to nonagenarians with failing eyesight and less than razor-sharp reflexes.

Distracted driving has been around as long as there have been cars, but now that there are so many more cars and drivers on the road, it’s more dangerous than it has ever been. Most people don’t remember a time when cars didn’t have radios, but they didn’t become available until the 1930s. In a 1934 poll by the Motor Club of New York, 56% of respondents considered the car radio to be a dangerous distraction, and some lawmakers moved to ban them.

Radios soon became standard and easier to use, and the clamor against them died down as drivers learned to multi-task. With the advent of the drive-through restaurant in the late 1940s, drivers added to their multitasking repertoire: driving, listening to the radio, and eating, all at the same time. Then came the cell phone, and suddenly our cars became extensions of our offices, kitchens, and living rooms. Why sit in the car by yourself and listen to the radio when you could return that client’s call or gossip with a friend? As text messaging became the standard mode of communication, particularly among younger people, yet another new distraction was introduced. Why not send a quick text to let your girlfriend know how much you love her? It will just take a second…

Why indeed? Maybe it’s worth waiting when you learn that sending or receiving a text message takes your eyes off the road for more than 4-1/2 seconds. At 55 mph, you could drive the length of a football field in that amount of time. Or maybe it’s worth waiting if you consider that, according to studies at the University of Utah, a driver is 4 times more likely to cause an accident while driving drunk or talking on a cell phone, and 8 times more likely to cause an accident while texting.

The correlation between texting and fatal accidents is still being evaluated, but its impact has been considered serious enough that 35 states have banned text messaging while driving, including Florida. Enforcement and monitoring will be difficult since it is only a secondary offense, but it’s a start, until drivers find something else to do in their cars.

It seems they’ve already moved on to the next crazy trend: driving selfies. For the less-savvy social media users out there, a selfie is a self-portrait taken with a smart phone camera. And a driving selfie is, unfortunately, exactly what it sounds like: a self-portrait taken while one is driving. With the hashtag #drivingselfie, #drivingtowork, and even #IhopeIdontcrash, these photos are uploaded by the thousands to online galleries on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter, posted mostly by young people behind the wheel of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and boats.

Taking a photo requires even more concentration than texting: to open the camera app, focus, get that smile just right, and click the shutter. No one wants to send out a selfie with a crooked smile, so smile at the camera just a wee bit longer and WHAM! Those television commercials with the “last text I sent before I killed a family of three” are haunting enough; it’s only a matter of time before there is a public service announcement showing a driving selfie that ends up in the obituaries.

Distracted driving probably will never go away. Technology will continue to evolve, and offer more distractions for drivers. Being aware of what other drivers might be doing in their cars is an important step in keeping yourself safe on the road. Check out distraction.gov to download a pledge to drive distraction-free for yourself or your young drivers. And if you’re ever involved in a car accident and suspect that distracted driving may be involved, be sure to contact one of the experienced auto accident attorneys at the Dolman Law Group at (727)451-6900. Please read more about our practice on our website; http://www.dolmanlaw.com/practice-area/distracted-drivers/