How Distracted Driving Can Be Just as Dangerous as Drunk Driving
Most people know the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Public safety initiatives and nationwide programs discourage drunk driving, while state laws enact strict administrative and criminal penalties for offenders. Yet, many people do not realize that driving while distracted can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.
It all comes down to what happens when a motorist becomes distracted. In most cases, the driver takes his or her eyes off the road, whether to look down at a text message or while turning around to grab something from the back seat. At highway speeds of 65 mph, this means a motorist who looks away for even just five seconds could travel nearly 500 feet— the equivalent of driving the length of a football field and a half.
Arming yourself with information about this dangerous trend can help you stay safe and educated behind the wheel. Additionally, if you’ve been injured by a distracted driver, a Tulsa car accident attorney can help you navigate your situation and pursue compensation for your injuries.
Distracted Driving Statistics Reveal a Disturbing Trend
While drunk driving statistics remain high, accounting for approximately 24% of all fatal crashes in Oklahoma in 2016, distracted driving is one of the biggest threats to Oklahoma motorists. According to (at the time) preliminary data compiled in the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office’s 2018 Annual Report, there were approximately 1,204 motorists who were seriously injured in accidents in which distracted driving was a factor in 2018.
Younger Drivers May Be More at Risk
Sadly, the same report revealed that younger drivers, those between the ages of 16 and 24, were far more likely to be injured or killed in distracted driving accidents than their older counterparts. A common thread connecting distracted driving and driving under the influence is that they both involve risky behavior and poor decision-making. The prefrontal cortex, the brain’s decision-making area, is not fully developed until people reach their mid-20s. This developmental process can lead to an increased likelihood of engaging in risky behavior like texting while driving or drunk driving among younger drivers.
Even more shockingly, statistics compiled in the Oklahoma Highway Safety Plan FY 2020 revealed that the top three contributing factors in injury and fatality accidents in the state in 2016 were, in order:
- Failure to yield
In other words, driving inattention, or distracted driving, was one of the most common causes of car accidents resulting in injuries and fatalities.
Distracted Driving vs. Drunk Driving: Just as Risky?
It might seem surprising to compare distracted driving to drunk driving. However, multiple reports have found that the risk levels are shockingly similar. A study by the University of Utah revealed that using a cell phone while driving can have the same or worse impairments as being legally drunk. Moreover, the results of the study indicated that it made little difference whether the drivers were using a handheld or hands-free device, highlighting that the danger posed by cellphone usage may not be limited to manual distractions.
Drunk driving and distracted driving both significantly impair reaction times. Texting drivers, for instance, take their eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. Drunk drivers also exhibit slower reaction times due to the alcohol’s effect on their cognitive functions.
According to data from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office (OSHO), both driving fatalities and total injuries resulting from distracted driving were greater than those caused by the influence of alcohol in 2020. During this year, alcohol-related crashes totaled 794, including 199 fatalities and 871 injuries. In comparison, distracted driving crashes numbered 1,110, including 44 fatalities and 1,437 injuries. A brief glance at this data seems to suggest that while alcohol-induced crashes can often result in more fatal and catastrophic injuries, drivers involved in distracting behaviors contribute to just as many, if not more, total accidents and injuries.
Distracted Driving Takes Many Forms
Despite the dangers of distracted driving, the problem continues to be widespread. State laws prohibiting the use of a handheld electronic communications device while driving have not stopped people from continuing to text, answer calls, take pictures and videos, and post to social media while operating their vehicles.
While cell phone use while driving is one of the most common examples of distracted driving, it’s not the only one. In fact, distracted driving can take several forms:
- Manual Distractions: A motorist is manually distracted whenever they remove their hands from the steering wheel, including when they use their hands to eat, text, etc.
- Visual Distractions: When a driver takes their eyes off the road—whether to glance at a cell phone, change the radio station, or look at a passenger—they are visually distracted.
- Auditory Distractions: If a driver is distracted by sounds not related to driving, such as loud music or a passenger talking, they are less likely to pay attention to the task at hand.
- Cognitive Distractions: Simply failing to pay attention as a result of daydreaming or thinking about something other than driving can be a serious distraction.
How to Stay Safe
The more we drive, the more comfortable we get behind the wheel. It can be easy to feel like responding to a text at a stoplight or eating fast food while traveling on the highway is no big deal. But the fact remains: driving is serious business.
When you drive, you are responsible for controlling a large, heavy, fast-moving vehicle. Your passengers and all other motorists on the road depend on you to be reasonably safe, follow all traffic laws, and refrain from distracting behaviors while behind the wheel. The best way to ensure your own safety and the safety of others is to put the cell phone down, avoid other distractions, and focus on the task at hand.
If you see another motorist who appears to be distracted, steer clear of the danger. Signs of a distracted driver often include “drifting” across lanes, over-correcting/jerky car movements, unexplained braking/stopping, failure to stop at red lights or stop signs, and failure to go when lights turn green. Give the suspected distracted driver a wide berth and remain alert. Remember, your safety and the safety of others is the most important thing; everything else can wait!
Is it illegal to text and drive in Oklahoma?
Yes, as of 2015, Oklahoma has a law against texting while driving. If caught, you could face a fine of $100. In addition, commercial drivers are prohibited from using handheld devices to make phone calls while behind the wheel. However, just because there is no law banning the use of hands-free devices to make phone calls does not negate the potential risks of doing so. Drivers should take care both to obey state law and use their own judgment to avoid putting themselves and others at risk.
What should I do if I was hit by a distracted driver?
First, ensure your safety and seek immediate medical attention if necessary. Then, collect as much information as you can from the other driver and any witnesses. You should contact a personal injury attorney, such as those at Aizenman Law Group, to help you pursue a claim for damages.
How can I prove that the other driver was distracted at the time of the accident?
Proving distraction can be challenging, but an experienced car accident attorney can help gather evidence that supports your claim. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, this could include cell phone records, witness testimonies, surveillance footage, or the official police or accident report.
Can I claim compensation if I was hit by a distracted driver?
Yes, if you were injured due to the negligence of a distracted driver, you are entitled to seek compensation for your injuries, property damage, lost wages, and other relevant expenses.
Distracted driving is not a trivial issue—it’s a deadly habit that deserves our full attention.
Stay safe on the roads, and remember, if you are involved in an accident in Tulsa, including those caused by distracted driving, we can help. Contact Aizenman Law Group for a free case evaluation today.