If you have seen a news program, newspaper article or magazine in the past few years, you probably know about the epidemic of distracted driving. Motorists are multi-tasking behind the wheel in record numbers, causing car accidents that injure nearly 400,000 people a year and kill more than 3,000. Truly tragic is the fact that, according to data provided by the national Highway Traffic Safety Administration novice drivers (those under the age of 20) are particularly vulnerable, and more than 11 percent of all young drivers were distracted at the time they caused motor vehicle accidents. This is a higher rate of distraction than any other age group.

Legislative action only addresses part of the problem

Many states – California included – have taken legislative steps to help discourage drivers from using hand-held cell phones and from texting. It is now illegal in the state for anyone to text behind the wheel, and is against the law for public transit operators and novice drivers to use a cell phone while driving, regardless of whether it is hand-held or hands-free. Furthermore, President Barack Obama signed an executive order into law in 2009 that prohibits all federal employees from using hand-held cell phones behind the wheel in the course of their employment.

Even so, there are myriad other activities that can be distracting enough behind the wheel to cause car accidents, but no laws have addressed them. It might actually be impossible for a law to address these types of otherwise innocuous activities, but they are indeed distracting. They include:

  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Grooming
  • Emailing
  • Surfing the web
  • Using a GPS/navigation system
  • Reading a map
  • Having boisterous conversations with passengers
  • Changing the music selection on the radio or mp3 player

Is hands-free technology a better option?

Some states (including California) have now passed laws outlawing the use of handheld cell phones for most civilian drivers, and have been encouraging the use of hands-free technologies if communication is a priority. Unfortunately, recent studies – like the one sponsored by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety (performed by the University of Utah Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving) – prove what some experts have known all along, that using hands-free technology to talk, text or email while driving is just as distracting as using a hand-held cell phone to talk or text.

The issue of distracted driving rests on the level of three distinct types of distractions: visual, manual and cognitive. Visual distraction is something that pulls your eyes away from the road, like looking around for your cell phone if it rings, or glancing down to type in a number. Manual distraction is something that takes your hands off the wheel, like sending a text. Cognitive distraction is the hardest to measure, and can only be accurately weighed with the use of specialized equipment that analyzes brain function.

The AAA study shows that using hands-free technologies, particularly those that use voice recognition and capture to compose or reply to texts and emails are just as distracting to your brain – in some cases even more so – than doing that activity manually.

Are you a victim?

Has a driver’s texting or emailing behind the wheel left you with serious injuries? Have you lost a loved one in a fatal car accident caused by a distracted driver? Do you need more information about holding the at-fault driver accountable for the harm you have suffered? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” speak with a skilled California personal injury attorney as soon as possible.