Distracted Driving Accidents

If you have not been living in a cave for the past decade, you have personal experience and observations about the dangers of distracted driving that have increased with the proliferation of cell phones.

Distracted driving presents a growing risk of injury and death on the highways of Georgia and throughout the United States. As an Atlanta lawyer handling personal injury and wrongful death cases statewide in Georgia, attorney Ken Shigley has seen all the sources of driver distraction.

Public awareness of driver distraction is a widespread public safety problem is roughly comparable to awareness of drunk driving hazards 40 years ago. In 2013[1], at least 18% of car accidents resulted from driver distraction , causing approximately 424,000 injuries[2] and 3,154 deaths . Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes[3], and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2013 were reported as distraction-affected crashes. These numbers are probably vastly underreported because most people who cause a crash while distracted do not admit that to a police officer.

The ten most common sources of driver distraction are:

  1. Generally distracted or “lost in thought” – 62%. A driver’s mind may wander far from the car and highway long enough to have a tragic consequence. You may have experienced this on a long car trip, thinking of some challenge in your personal life or work, then realizing that you had driven miles without even realizing it. Usually the only way to get information about this form of distraction is patient cross-examination of the driver who caused the crash in a deposition.
  2. Cellphone use – 12%. We have handled numerous crash cases in which a driver was talking on a cell phone or texting. There are studies indicating cell phone use while driving is roughly equivalent to 0.08 gr/% drunk driving. Even hands free cell phone use may present a serious driving hazard. While hands free phones eliminate the distraction of looking at and manipulating a phone, the cognitive distraction can take the driver’s mind off the road. For good reason, interstate truck drivers are barred from texting and handheld cell phones while driving.
  3. Outside person, object or event – 7%. Looking at someone or something outside the vehicle, like rubbernecking at an accident scene or gawking at people in other cars, is a common distraction.
  4. Other occupants – 5%. While casual conversation may not be much of a distraction, more intense interaction with other people in the car can place major demands on your attention. As a Georgia attorney, Ken Shigley had a case in which a dump truck driver took his live-in girlfriend along in the truck delivering crushed rock from a quarry to a road construction site. They were arguing in the truck when he crashed into our client who was waiting to make a left turn onto a freeway ramp.
  5. Using or reaching for a device brought into the car – 2%. We had a fatal truck accident case in which a truck driver was reaching for a water bottle he had dropped on the floor. Distracted from watching the road ahead, he ran over a car and killed a woman.
  6. Eating or drinking – 2%. People who attempt to eat anything messy or difficult to handle are particularly prone to driver distraction accidents. Ketchup spilling down one’s clothing can momentarily seem more important than safety of other people on the highway.
  7. Adjusting audio or climate controls – 2%. Fiddling with the AC or radio for even a moment is a factor in some traffic crashes.
  8. Adjusting devices or controls – such as mirrors and seatbelts -- in operation of the vehicle – 1%.
  9. Moving objects – 1%. Moving objects in the car such as insects and pets can lead you to take your eyes off the road. We have had cases in which drivers were swatting at a bee or dealing with a dog moving around in the vehicle.
  10. Smoking related – 1%. A driver may be distracted by lighting or putting out a cigarette or cigar, or dropping a lit cigarette on the driver’s lap.

More often, driver distraction is suspected but unproven unless the driver admits to it. There are no chemical tests for driver distraction. Police do not check cell phones without a search warrant, for which probable causes would be required. In lawsuits, as a Georgia attorney, at Shigley Law we subpoena cell phone billing records of the driver at fault whenever possible but defendants use numerous excuses to block access to records of calls and texting.

Inattention blindness.

All the causes of distracted driving accidents relate to a psychological phenomenon called “inattentional blindness.” A person whose mind is on one thing may fail to perceive things that are clearly visible right in front of him. A driver preoccupied with a cell phone conversation – even hands free – may fail to see a red light or stop sign.

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[1] https://www.distraction.gov/downloads/pdfs/Distracted_Driving_2013_Research_note.pdf

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/

[3] https://www.distraction.gov/stats-research-laws/facts-and-statistics.html