You glance down at the phone to read a text. Then, you look back at the road ahead.
You glance down to read another text. When you look back to the road this time – the car in front of you is stopped! All you see are red brake lights. It’s too late.
That’s how quickly distractions can result in car crashes. A crash at normal roadway speeds creates a huge risk of serious personal injury. We hear some version of this story almost every week. A story of distraction while texting, selecting songs, or other uses of a cellphone.
Often, the distraction is much, much worse. Many times, a car is weaving down the road while its driver reads and answers texts oblivious to everyone around him. I’ve reviewed accident cases where drivers were reading their Facebook feed. I’ve even reviewed cases where drivers were watching videos while driving their cars. During the pandemic, a state legislator (thankfully not in Alabama) was caught driving and attending a meeting by Zoom at the same time! Just last week, a new client at our firm described watching another car weave across the lanes of I565 in Huntsville for over a mile as that driver focused completely on his phone.
With a quick google search you can easily find lots of websites listing statistics concerning the number of car accidents, injuries and deaths due to distracted driving. I’ll share a couple. According to AAA, distracted driving accidents killed over 3100 people nationwide in 2019. Another AAA statistic indicates 35% of teenage drivers admit to distracted driving. My opinion is that most studies probably underreport the problem. The true numbers are probably much higher. I’ve handled Alabama car accident cases for over two decades. Crash statistics fail to record distraction as a cause even when the evidence supports it. In injury cases, negligent drivers often deny distraction even when all the eyewitnesses and the phone records tell a different story. Many crashes involve distraction but are not included within official statistics.
I’ve written many articles on distracted driving. I’ve also written an entire page on our firm website on the topic. I’ve tried to focus on the problem and how we can impact it.
April is traditionally Distracted Driving Awareness Month nationwide. During April, law enforcement and other safety groups work to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. Here is a link to a Slideshow I created for Distracted Driving Awareness Month back in 2019. To reduce dangerous distracted driving, we need to focus on several areas: Law, Technology and Education. Laws that penalize bad behavior. Technology that prevents or reduces the opportunity for distraction. Education that raises awareness about dangerous habits and choices that cause serious accidents. With education, much of the focus needs to be on younger drivers who are developing driving habits for a lifetime.
How has the issue of Distracted Driving changed in 2022? Are we developing bad habits? Let’s look at the last few years. During the recent pandemic, we had far fewer cars on the road. Much less traffic. With fewer cars, accident and injury numbers should have decreased. But, the emerging data tells a different (and disturbing) story. We saw fewer accidents. But, the accidents that did occur were worse. The rate of deadly crashes increased. The rate of reckless behaviors like speeding, drinking and driving, and distracted driving, all increased. Across northern Alabama, local law enforcement agencies reported increases in impaired driving arrests. And, statistics related to impaired truck drivers nationwide show an increase in impaired driving. Dangerous behavior increased during the pandemic.
As we exit the pandemic and return to normal (hopefully), the big question is whether or not those bad behavioral changes are permanent? Personally, I think we will see an increase in impaired and distracted driving in the short-term over the next few years. I worry the bad habits developed during the pandemic may be hard to break.
We are a Huntsville personal injury law firm representing clients across Alabama. We take a work-intensive approach for our clients centered on preparing every single case for its maximum potential. Outside the courtroom, our attorneys continue to advocate for safer roadways, safer products and safer workplaces.