Distracted Driving

As a crash lawyer with 25 years experience in motor vehicle accident law, I have had the opportunity to represent thousands of people who have injured or lost a loved one as the result of a car, truck, or motorcycle crash. Since 2009, I have seen a steady increase in the number of collisions caused by a distracted driver using a cell phone or another portable electronic device. The sheer increase in the number of distracted driving collisions is why I refer to this as an “epidemic”.

Several things combine to create a new universe of roadway risk. First, there is the sheer volume of drivers who have cell phones. Second, is the fact that cell phone use is both habit-forming and addictive. These two factors combine to create a large number of drivers who will put their own lives (and others’ lives) at risk by turning their attention away from the road to their cell.

Couple this with the fact that drivers are not just using phones to talk and text, but, in fact,  using their phones for a whole range of other functions, including  navigation, emailing, browsing the internet, accessing apps, and updating social media.

Finally, this new universe of risk is intensified by the fact that we can find viable solutions to reverse the trending increase in distracted driving.

First, there are more distracted drivers than drunk drivers. Therefore, the probability of a distracted driver causing a serious injury or fatality is much higher than an impaired driver. Secondly, because distracted drivers ordinarily don’t have any reaction time to avoid a collision, distracted driving crashes typically produce more violent collisions, resulting in a greater probability of serious injury or death.

The point to take away is that distracted driving is highly dangerous and on par with impaired driving.

The number of distracted drivers on American roads is likely to increase because the  solutions being implemented are proving to be ineffective. For example, we are relying upon anti-texting laws as our main distracted driving prevention method. Unfortunately, anti-texting laws are very difficult for police and highway patrols to enforce. Also, drivers have very little motivation to abide by the anti-texting laws because the penalties are minimal.

Some experts point to technology advances as a possible solution to the distracted driving epidemic. I am not optimistic about the proposed technology solutions because most of these proposed solutions involve disabling the phone while the car is moving. In my view, once you give people the ability to use the cell phone technology, it is very difficult to limit or completely take it away.

Finally, cell phone use while driving is viewed as “socially acceptable” conduct. Until we change the driving culture to where distracted driving is seen as reckless driving, drivers will continue to expand their use of phones and other electronic devices.

While “hands-free” does reduce the risk of a distracted driving collision, there is a hidden danger caused by the “cognitive distraction” of the driver. Cognitive distraction is another way to describe driver inattention. For instance, cognitive distraction occurs anytime when we are trying to hold a conversation and operating a motor vehicle at the same time. Our eyes may be on the road, but our minds are focused on the conversation. When cognitive distraction takes over, drivers are much more likely to run through stop signs and red lights, drift out of their lane, and be hampered in their ability to react to driving hazards.

Although “hands-free” does eliminate some manipulation of the phone, I know from personal experience that using my vehicle’s integrated hands-free speed dial is particularly distracting. In my case it takes about 7-10 seconds to engage the speed dial function, and most of that time my eyes can not be on the road.

As a crash lawyer, I have a platform to make a difference in 2 primary areas. First, from a legal standpoint, victims of distracted driving, including families who have lost a family member due to a distracted driver, need to have their cases aggressively handled. This means structuring the case as an “aggravated liability” case such that recovery can be maximized.

Second, my legal background has given me elevated insights into distracted driving prevention.  In 2011 I formalized my driving safety efforts by starting Drive By Example. This program was designed to address distracted driving prevention for both teen and adult drivers. If we can implement programs like Drive By Example on a wider basis, we will make significant strides in reducing distracted driving and set the foundations for long-term driving culture improvements.

Through re-tooled traffic safety campaigns, comprehensive school district programs, and a greater number of public/private driving safety partnerships.

Yes, but the present distracted driving prevention campaigns need to be re-tooled. For example, instead of basing distracted driving prevention messages on “don’t text and drive”, our messages need to based on the fact that cell phone use behind the wheel is  reckless, painting distracted drivers as being just as dangerous as drunk drivers.

Once we “villain-ize” cell phone use while driving, we can make headway in the fight against distracted driving.

In addition to changing our approach to traffic safety messaging campaigns, we need to implement driver safety education in the high school curriculum. While traditional driver’s education is no longer possible, we can easily incorporate driving safety education into the health curriculum.

Also, because working adults are the largest segment class of distracted drivers, I believe  corporations and business firms can play a big factor in reducing distracted driving. In this regard, I have developed a model driving safety program that businesses can administer through their corporate wellness organizations. It is called the Drive By Example Corporate Protection program. The ultimate goal is to provide Missouri distracted driving prevention and keep our citizens safer.

Drive By Example is a public service organization dedicated to advancing driver safety, particularly in the areas of distracted driving prevention and teen driver protection. In addition to using Drive By Example as a platform for my driver safety advocacy efforts in the Kansas City area, I have developed several model driving safety programs that can be utilized by state & local government, law enforcement, school districts, community organizations,  and others to deliver effective driver safety communications programs.

The mission of Drive By Example is to influence drivers to adopt the habits and behaviors that protect themselves, their passengers and others on the roadway.

With a growing population of distracted drivers who have a tendency to think that their cell phone activity behind the wheel does not effect their driving ability, we are confident that the Drive By Example message will cause them to re-think about their approach to driving and help them set a better example for passengers and other motorists.

Also, programs like Drive By Example are important to keeping driving safety high on the public consciousness, influencing drivers to drive more defensively. This will be vital in helping to reduce distracted driving.

The core message is to drive alert, buckled and cautious. We like this message because it is clear, concise, and memorable.

As an aside, Drive By Example, is an example of a traffic safety message that uses a positive forming technique. It plays off of the well-known phase “lead by example”, which motivates people to model good habits and behaviors.

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