Distracted driving is a term that is often interpreted as cell phone use, texting, emailing, checking for directions, or any of the number of things one can do with the little devices that seem to capture the attention and time of human beings, all the time, even while driving.
However, distracted driving is much more than cell phone use, and although cell phone use is a huge problem on the roads across New Jersey and the rest of the nation, these electronic devices only represent about 22 percent of New Jersey distracted driving car accidents.
That figure is in keeping with the rest of the country, where cell phone use is estimated to be the cause of about one in four accidents. The cell phone does, however, engage drivers in all the ways humans can be distracted:
- Manual. Using a cell phone, eating, playing with the dashboard controls, drinking, and smoking all will take one hand off the wheel. Manual distractions are often combined with cognitive distractions.
- Visual. Eyes go to the text, the phone number calling, or the email. Checking GPS, looking at and talking with a passenger, putting on makeup, and even reading a billboard are examples of visual distractions.
- Cognitive. Drivers are attempting to process information that has nothing to do with the conditions on the road or the vehicles around their cars. Driving angry, driving, and crying, daydreaming, and road rage are considered cognitive distractions.
Because the cell phone can absorb so much of a human being’s attention, this may be the reason why 58 percent of moderate to severe collisions involving teen drivers are determined to have been caused by distraction, according to state records shared on the New Jersey Attorney General’s webpage. The site also reports that about half of all drivers under age 35 admit they send and read texts while driving.
Many people believe that texting does not take a lot of time, but that is incorrect. The average text takes humans about five seconds to read; also, the person driving is not going to be looking at the road while reading it. Five seconds at 55 miles per hour is the length of a football field, and that leaves a lot of room for something to go wrong on the road.
However, cell phones and all the forms of communication one can accomplish with them is only one area of temptation for drivers to lose focus on the road. The problem is inherent in human beings. Many of us want to get things done while we are sitting behind a wheel because we see it as time wasted before we get to where we need to be.
Distracted driving is described by online dictionary Wikipedia as: The act of driving while engaging in other activities which distract the driver’s attention away from the road. Distractions are shown to compromise the safety of the driver, passengers, pedestrians, and people in other vehicles. The truth is that as much as we are all tempted to multi-task, human beings really are not capable of it.
Some of the other common behaviors making up the other 78 percent of distracted driving accidents in New Jersey are as follows:
- Grooming. People use that time behind the wheel to brush hair, apply makeup, even shave and dress.
- Adjusting the radio or other devices on the dashboard.
- Checking directions. It does not have to be a GPS device or a phone to be a distraction. Reading a map while behind the wheel is also a problem unless you pull over and stop the car.
- Talking to passengers or looking back to check on them.
These types of distractions may have plagued drivers since the automobile was invented, but that does not make them any less dangerous. There is a reason that the two hands on the wheel, two eyes on the road adage is still used in driving school: it works. One cannot stop all accidents from happening, but drivers are far better off if they are able to react to changes and potential collisions on the road.
Texting and Driving Is Against the Law in New Jersey
Using a cell phone or smartphone while driving is a primary offense for a motorist in New Jersey, unless you are using hands-free or Bluetooth technology. Public transit drivers cannot use a cell phone or smartphone, regardless of if they are communicating via hands-free technology. Because it is against the law, there are punishments for those caught with this form of distracted driving:
- $200 to $400 for a first offense.
- $400 to $600 for a second offense.
- $600 to $800 for the third offense and beyond. Also, three points on the driver’s license and the possibility of having your license suspended for 90 days.
- The possibility of getting a reckless driving conviction also exists for those who are involved in an accident and distracted driving is found to be the cause, depending on the circumstances. If a motorist’s distracted driving results in the death of another person, vehicular homicide charges are a possibility.
- In the case of a public transportation driver, using a cell phone for a non-emergency situation can result in a disorderly persons offense. A convicted driver can spend up to six months in jail and a possible fine of up to $1,000.
Exceptions to this exist for both drivers and public transit drivers:
- If the driver fears for his or her life or safety or believes that a criminal act may be perpetrated against them or another person.
- If the driver is using the device to report a danger such a fire, a road hazard, an accident.
Signs of a Distracted Driver on the Road
Because distracted drivers are far more likely to get into a collision on the road than a driver who is paying attention, part of paying attention to the road needs to be recognizing the signs that a driver nearby is distracted.
According to driving school Coastline Academy, there are some tell-tale signs that a nearby driver is not paying attention to the road.
Some of these might seem obvious, and some may easily be the result of someone operating under the influence of intoxicating substances. But whether the driver is operating under the influence or is just not paying attention, the result could easily be a collision.
Here are a few tips from Coastline Academy on recognizing a distracted driver:
- The driver is visibly eating, drinking, or smoking behind the wheel. It is very easy for a driver to make a mistake while focused on eating, drinking, or smoking. A spill could quickly turn into a collision.
- Not maintaining a consistent speed. A driver who is speeding up and slowing down is likely distracted. When the driver’s mind is engaged in something else, they are not thinking about the road, the traffic around them, and the speed limit.
- A driver can be seen having personal interactions with others in their car. Chances are good that the driver is not focused on the road if you can see them having an animated conversation with a passenger or turning around to check on a child.
- Driver is looking down or bent over. If a driver is looking at their lap, they are likely looking at their cell phone. At night, this is visible because the cell phone light is shining brightly inside the car. Drivers who are bent over may be trying to grab an item that fell on the floor, and that means they are not looking at the road and not thinking about the traffic ahead either.
- A driver hitting the brakes suddenly and often. A normal driver is focused on the road and starting and stopping normally. If the driver looks up suddenly and realizes that the car is going too fast for traffic or that traffic is stopped, that driver is likely to slam on the brakes.
How Negligence Is Proved in a Distracted Driving Case
Drivers go through a licensing process because people need to prove they can drive safely. There is a duty of care for those who get behind the wheel, to drive in a safe way. Distracted driving is considered an act of negligence because it means the driver is choosing to focus on other things than the road ahead.
When distracted driving is found to be the cause of a car accident, the driver accused of driving distracted may be found liable for the damages to the other people involved in the accident.
However, proving that the driver’s behavior was negligent is another matter. Since police will investigate to determine the cause of an accident, they will talk to all parties involved in the accident and any witnesses.
Some methods of proving that distracted driving is the cause of an accident are as follows:
- Admission from the driver. This happens more often than one might think. In the rush of emotions at an accident scene, there is also an immediate sense of guilt if a driver fears, or knows, that they were at least partially responsible for the injuries and/or damage.
- Witness statements. Witnesses stated that the driver did not seem to be paying attention, or that the driver was visibly engaged in an activity that took eyes and focus away from the road. As pointed out earlier, this can be seen on the road; our vehicles do not isolate us from other drivers, pedestrians, or the cameras either one might be holding and using to document negligent behavior. Cell phones might be a temptation for drivers, but they are used constantly by everyone else as well.
- Cell phone or email records. Cell phones come with a timestamp. If a driver is texting and driving, it will be figured out by police quickly.
- Police dashboard or bodycam video, or pedestrian cellphone video. This is another task for which cell phone devices are used. If someone was driving distracted, there may well be video evidence to prove it.
- Analysis of skid marks at the scene, or the lack of skid marks. If there are no skid marks, it indicates that the driver did not brake before the collision.
Teens and Young Adults Are Particularly Vulnerable to Distracted Driving
Unfortunately, the youngest drivers on the road are often the most distracted, according to state statistics.
Although New Jersey distracted driving cases drop steadily after drivers reach age 25, they climb steadily from ages 16 to 20 and stay at their highest point, 12.3 percent, for those between ages 20 and 25, according to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.
Despite the fatalities, the injuries, and the damage to property, 43 percent of the teen drivers in an AT&T survey admitted to texting and driving, although almost all the young drivers agreed the behavior was dangerous.
Many drivers are tempted by distractions when sitting behind the wheel. Although New Jersey numbers continually decline from ages 20 to 25 to age 75, they start to tick back up afterwards.
Distracted driving is a human problem. But it is worse for younger drivers. A big part of the reason behind this challenge for young drivers is biology.
The adolescent brain, which is supposed to mature at age 25, and the percentage of distracted drivers in the Garden State from ages 26 to 30 correspondingly drops down to 11.1 percent from 12.3 percent for those age 20 to 25.
According to research from a University of Michigan psychology professor, the 16-to 25-year-old driver is still figuring out how to control emotions and remain focused when challenges arise. Drivers know that the average commute home is filled with challenges, and sometimes a lot of challenges at once.
This is because of brain development. In essence, the human brain develops from the back to the front. The limbic system, which controls the more simplified processes of the brain, including reward and arousal, develops more quickly than the prefrontal cortex, which really acts as the executive control center.
For this reason, distractions in a car that do not require a handheld device, such as a car full of other teens, loud music, or active conversations, could easily cause an accident for an adolescent struggling to focus on the road. Add to that, younger drivers are far more prone to speeding and less likely to wear seat belts.
These common non-electronic distractions are not mentioned here to take away from the very real threat of texting while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), adolescent drivers are three times more likely than drivers from other age groups to text while driving.
However, this points to a biological difference between a 35-year-old on her way home from work and a 17-year-old on his way to a party with a car full of friends. These two drivers are likely to approach challenges on the road in very different ways.
Steps to Take to Reduce Distracted Driving in Teens and Everyone Else
- Limit the number of passengers in the car.
- Turn off the phone once behind the wheel and store it in the glove box.
- Preload music or playlist before starting the car. Finding a good station or song can take eyes off the road for longer than people think.
- Make sure temperature controls are set to an acceptable level before getting on the road.
- Insist all in the car wear seat belts.
- Keep the conversation minimal. The temptation is to fill the time spent driving, but a deep discussion, such as the kind people want to have on a road trip, can also result in the driver not focusing on the road mentally, even if the driver’s eyes are fixed straight ahead.
Distracted driving may be a problem for all of us, but it can be addressed with precautions built into driving.
Monmouth County Car Accident Lawyers at Mikita & Roccanova Help People Involved in Accidents Caused by Distracted Driving
Car accidents create all kinds of difficulties for those involved. If you were involved in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, reach out to the Monmouth County car accident lawyers at Mikita & Roccanova. Our legal team will investigate the cause of the accident and will fight to secure compensation from the at-fault party. Call us at 732-705-3363 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Hazlet and Highland Park, New Jersey, we serve clients in Ocean County and Sussex County, and Pennsylvania.