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Zooming And Driving? Did The Pandemic Make Distracted Driving Worse?

Untitled-design-2-300x300During the month of April, safety groups focus on the issue of Distracted Driving. Nationwide, April is commonly referred to as Distracted Driving Awareness Month. At our office, distracted driving is a year-round focus. Many of our accident and injury cases involve distracted driving. While most involve a cell phone, not all do.

Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted distracted driving?

During the COVID-19 shutdowns, our roads saw far fewer cars. With school closures and remote workers, morning traffic in Huntsville looked very different. Pre-COVID, traffic coming into Huntsville over Monte Sano was bumper-to-bumper during rush hour. Not so during the shutdowns!

With reduced traffic last year in 2020, you would expect far fewer car and truck accidents. But, some traffic data during the pandemic showed really surprising and dangerous trends. Around northern Alabama, many law enforcement agencies actually made more DUI arrests. Did the shutdowns allow police to allocate more manpower to highway patrols? That’s one possibility. But, many local agencies felt the anxious and uncertain conditions of the pandemic caused greater alcohol consumption. I wrote about impaired driving concerns during the pandemic in a November 2020 post titled, Are More Impaired Drivers Putting People At Risk On Alabama Roads And Highways?

You would also expect fewer cars means fewer distracted drivers. Yet, traffic research tells a different story on this issue as well. Zendrive says it studied over 86,000 accident reports across the United States. According to Zendrive, January through November 2020 saw a 63% increase in collisions per million miles driven. While the overall numbers of drivers and accidents may be down, the rate based on miles driven is way up! Zendrive attributes much of the increasing rate to cell phone usage.

Travelers Insurance also conducted a separate driver survey on the issue. Although smaller and less comprehensive than Zendrive’s analysis of actual accident reports, Travelers’ survey also provided interesting results. I always question the results of surveys which ask people to admit bad behavior. How many bad drivers actually admit driving distracted? Even more, how many bad drivers actually admit the behavior to their insurance company? Regardless, the survey showed increases in driving while doing all the following dangerous and distracting activities:

  • Texting or Emailing
  • Checking Social Media
  • Taking Videos and Pictures
  • Shopping Online

According to a Travelers executive, the company’s findings suggest many people feel increased pressure to always be available for their jobs. Many managers expect their employees to respond frequently to calls, texts and emails, now that they are working remotely.

Are People Really Zooming And Driving?

Hard to believe isn’t it? Late last year, a Texas television station aired a report titled, Zooming and Driving:  A New Concern During The COVID-19 PandemicI guess I should not be too surprised. I’ve handled some car accident cases in Huntsville where people were watching movies or videos while also trying to drive!

According to the report, part of the problem may be all the virtual meetings people are now attending. With Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms, people are attending meetings using their cellphone remotely from anywhere (and at any time). If you turn off the camera and microphone, you could participate from a car without other participants knowing. What could be more dangerous? This activity would involve all three types of distraction:  Manual, Cognitive and Visual. Like texting, that means it is especially dangerous.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we interact. Like all changes, they carry positive and negative results. Our firm handles serious personal injury cases across Alabama. With courts now using virtual hearings for simple things like status conferences, we are able to spend more time studying our files and helping clients while spending less time driving long distances. That’s a big positive for many lawyers. It’s also a big positive for many other professions where people spend long hours on the road to attend meetings at great distances. I believe in coming years, telemedicine will also increase the ability of doctors and nurses to treat patients. I hope it does and believe many of my injured clients could benefit by consulting their doctor without the traveling and waiting issues that come with many doctor visits.

On the negative side, virtual platforms also increase the pressure on many people to always be available. This adds another electronic distraction to every day life. On the highway, a distraction can be deadly.

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From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps people across Alabama with cases involving serious personal injuries and damages. Many of our cases involve serious car and truck accidents. Outside of court, we continue to advocate for safer highways. Consultations are always free and confidential. We are happy to answer your questions.

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