Before you read further, check out this video that was shot from a police patrol car dashcam stopped along I-70 in Blue Springs. This I-70 distracted driving crash happened on September 4, 2020, and, thankfully, no one was killed. Several people were seriously injured, however, including my client.
As a lawyer who has concentrated his law practice in representing persons hurt in distracted driving accidents, I can tell you that these types of crashes are happening much more frequently. There is only one reason for this: the cell phone.
In my opinion, manipulating a cell phone while driving has become more dangerous than drunk driving, becoming more of a daytime threat to persons driving on Kansas City roadways, both in Missouri and Kansas. There are 3 reasons why distracted driving is of much greater harm than drunk driving:
- More Distracted Drivers than Drunk Drivers
- More Violent Collisions Resulting in Serious Injuries & Fatalities
- Weak Distracted Driving Laws
1. More Distracted Drivers than Drunk Drivers
The fact is that drunk driving is extremely dangerous, but the number of drunk drivers on the road in Kansas City has gone down in recent years. We have passed laws and given law enforcement the resources to lessen the threat of a drunk or impaired driver.
On the other hand, prime time distracted drivers are growing in numbers every day. Distracted driving used to be a problem associated with younger drivers, but now adult drivers represent the largest class of distracted drivers as they talk, text, navigate, send/receive emails, browse the web, update social media, watch videoes, and a host of other desktop computer-like functions.
Next time you are out driving, take note of how many drivers are using the phone. It is eye-opening to see drivers burying their heads in their phones. It has become the new normal and previously safe drivers are now becoming Kansas City’s most dangerous drivers.
While drunk drivers are more prevalent under the cover of darkness, in the later evening and on weekends, the threat of being hit by a distracted driver in highest during the period of 7 am -6 pm, when people are commuting to work, school, lunch, or back home.
2. More Violent Collisions Resulting in Serious Injuries & Fatalities
Based upon my 25 years of legal experience in representing injured people in car, truck, and motorcycle accident cases, I can say, without reservation, that distracted driving crashes cause more severe injury, especially injuries to the head and neck. This is because the typical distracted driver is not making any attempt to brake before impact.
This is not to say that drunk drivers don’t cause their share of serious injury and wrongful death. It is just there is a significant difference when you are hit at 20-25 mph as opposed to speeds in excess of 40 mph, as demonstrated by the video.
Reaction time in hitting the brakes or taking another evasive action is the key to reducing the severity of the injury. Consider the following:
- When unimpaired, a person needs .54 seconds to hit the brakes
- When they are legally drunk, four feet of additional space is needed to hit the brakes
- If reading an email or other phone screen text, 36 additional feet of space is needed
- If sending a text or manipulating a cell phone keyboard, an additional 70 feet of space is needed
The bottom line is that the more severe the force of impact, the greater the likelihood of a serious, prolonged injury. As mentioned earlier, this is especially true when it comes to head and neck injuries. Notably, violent crashes (like the one in the video) lead to concussion and cervical spine trauma resulting in prolonged symptoms and recovery time. We also know that the difference between a moderate speed collision and a higher speed crash will produce greater injury to the extremities and the joints. These types of injuries often lead to more significant impairment that diminishes productivity, mobility, and ultimately, earning capacity.
3. Weak Distracted Driving Laws
Distracted driving has become an epidemic in part because of weak or non-existent distracted driving laws. Missouri, if you can believe it, is one of only two states without a distracted driving law prohibiting all drivers from using a cell phone. Yes, in Missouri, if you are 22 or older, you can legally text and drive.
It is no wonder why I get calls every week to represent persons injured in distracted driving accidents. I have been to Jefferson City to testify before the lawmakers who have debated this issue, along with other driving safety advocates. I consistently hear that we already have laws against careless and imprudent driving and that is good enough. Unfortunately, the motoring public does not make the connection between “careless” driving and using a cell phone behind the wheel.
I believe a law correction would be helpful, but not a total fix to the distracted driving epidemic. However, at the very least, a law change would help to change the cultural norms that have developed over the last 10 years.
Attorney Doug Horn is the founder and lead attorney the Horn Law Firm based in Independence. In addition to his law practice, Horn is a driver safety advocate dedicating much of his work to distracted driving prevention, teen driver protection, and traffic fatality reduction.